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Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called on the government to immediately appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to inquire into the sinking X-Press Pearl.

Making a special statement on Sunday (06), the UNP leader observed that if the explosion had taken place when the X-Press Pearl had entered the port of Colombo, the damage would have been worse, adding that "it could have destroyed all the buildings from the Colombo port to the Shangri-La Hotel."

Elaborating further, the former Prime Minister said,

"The ship arrived in the outer harbor of Colombo on the night of May 19. On the 20th of May, our crew entered the ship.

There they learned that there was a fire in the container boxes containing the chemicals stored on the ship.

By May 25, the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) had informed the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that this area was in danger.

The Marine Environment Protection Authority warned that there is a risk of fire damaging the marine environment. This is referred to as a “Tier II" disaster. This means that if Sri Lanka finds it difficult to control the fire, it may need outside help.

Although the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was notified of the need for assistance, neither the Government of Sri Lanka nor MEPA requested international assistance.

Why did the government not enforce the existing laws between May 20 and May 25?  That is the most important question.

In such a situation the National Disaster Council can be convened under the Disaster Management Act. It has the potential to gather and declare a state of disaster in the coastal region.

This National Disaster Council could be formed with the participation of 20 Ministers including the President and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and 5 Members of the Opposition.

The National Council could have met and taken decisions on behalf of the Coast Guard. But no one made such a decision.

Lanka Ship fire APSmoke rises from the fire struck MV X-Press Pearl off Colombo Port, Sri Lanka. Photo: AP

If it had been declared that there would be a national disaster, we could have obtained foreign assistance to put out the fire.

As the fire spread, we got help to put out the fire from India. By then the fire was out of control because the notification to India had been delayed.

Europe and East Asian countries have the greatest knowledge about the fires of such a chemical ship.

Why was the International Maritime Organization not informed and international assistance to extinguish the fire requested? Why did the fire grow and let it get to the point of destruction? These questions have arisen.

Why didn't we think about the damage to our future economy and the damage to the environment from this fire? The government and the Marine Environment Protection Authority should have thought about these matters.

There is a risk of destruction of the coral reef around Colombo in the Sri Lankan Seas due to the mixing of nitric acid with seawater. It is because of the coral reef in Colombo that we survived the tsunami disaster.

Therefore, I propose that a Parliamentary Select Committee be immediately appointed to inquire into the fire on this ship.

There is a possibility of appointing members and appointing a Select Committee this week when Parliament meets.  

Accordingly, the Committee may meet in the first week of July to present a preliminary report on the environmental and economic damage caused by the ship fire.

People have a right to know how the ship caught fire and why it could not be extinguished. Also, the people have a right to know what steps we will take next regarding the ship. We urge the government to expedite this."