Ship Wreck Causing Additional Legal Woes

Friday, September 03, 1999
Sri Lanka is considering legal action against a local shipping firm if it does not remove the wreck of a Turkish ship that broke up while being towed ashore. Dhanapala Weerasekera, chairman of Marine Pollution Prevention Authority (MPPA), said that Sri Lankan Shipping Company Ltd. had towed the abandoned Meliksah without any salvage contract from the owners or permission from local authorities. "As the unauthorized action... amounts to criminal negligence involving both civil and criminal liability, I will be seeking the approval of the ministry... to initiate action," he said. The Turkish vessel, which was carrying some 16,000 tons of fertilizer, was abandoned off Sri Lanka's southern coast last month after its engine room developed a leak and water began seeping in. The 27 member crew of the 10,000-gt cargo ship was rescued by a Singaporean vessel some 15 miles from the Sri Lankan coastal town of Donra Head. Weerasekera said the Turkish vessel had broken into two in shallow waters while being towed and had spilled oil. The cargo of fertilizer was also getting mixed with the water and posed a serious environmental threat, he added. "If and when the total load of fertilizer leaks out my opinion is that such eventuality will destroy fish and the fisheries industry for a fairly long time in addition to damage to the whole beach area," Weerasekera said. "The total environmental damage is difficult to estimate now but will definitely exceed several million dollars, probably over $10 million dollars." An official for Sri Lanka Shipping Co. said the MPPA was exaggerating the extent of the environmental damage and that it was negotiating with the ship's owners, Anya Finans Kuruma AS of Turkey, for a salvage contract when the vessel was being towed.

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