Detectives drop another bombshell in X-Press Pear probe


COLOMBO – Detectives probing the MV X-Press Pearl sinking outside the Colombo harbour told a magisterial inquiry Wednesday (30) that the device recording ship-to-shore communications had malfunctioned.

The stunning revelation came after CID told the Colombo Additional Magistrate three weeks ago that the local agent had deleted all e-mail correspondence with the captain of the Singapore-registered vessel.

Wednesday’s statement by the police Criminal Investigations Department to Magistrate Lochini Abeywickrama suggested new snags in establishing if the ship had informed the harbour authorities about an onboard acid leak in a timely manner.

The Attorney General’s Department told court that the CID did not have the expertise to decipher the ship-to-shore data recorder at the Pilot Station and wanted assistance from the local supplier of the device. However, the CID filed a report with the court saying the equipment had malfunctioned.

The defence counsel for Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, the agent for X-Press Feeders, asked court why the harbour master was not being named as a suspect in the case when his client had been named as one.

Counsel Sarath Jayamanne accused the CID of a partisan investigation and warned that detectives would be isolated and no one would come to their rescue unless they acted independently.

Earlier, the CID had reported that Sea Consortium had deleted its e-mails with the captain of the ship, Russian national Vitaly Tyutkalo.

The mails were crucial to establishing if the skipper had told the agent about a nitric acid leak, which is said to have triggered a chain of events that eventually saw the vessel catch fire and sink off the Colombo harbour.

On May 20, the X-Press Pearl reported an onboard acid leak and caught fire just as it was due to enter the Colombo harbour. The fire was put out after 13 days, but the vessel’s stern hit the bottom of the shallow sea when a tug attempted to move it to deeper waters.

Two onboard explosions saw several cargo containers fall into the Indian Ocean and plastic raw material later swamped the western seaboard of the island.

-The marine toll-

The AG told court on Wednesday that 176 turtles, 20 dolphins and four whales had died as a result of the pollution from the container ship.

Sri Lanka has made an interim claim of $37.5 million from the ship’s insurer who has agreed to release about $3.5 million to compensate fishermen affected by the pollution.

A further hearing has been put off for July 13 while the captain of the ship is due to appear in another case on Thursday (July 1).

A local environmental group has filed action against the government as well as the ship and its local agent for causing Sri Lanka’s worst marine pollution.


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