Institue of National Security Studies Sri lanka (INSSSL)

Institute of National Security Studies
Public Lecture; “Oil Spill, A Major Threat to Environmental Security.”
Press Release

Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) held a public lecture, on 30th September at the auditorium of INSSSL with the participation of several experts from the academia, legal, military and security fields to discuss particular threats to environmental security due to oil spills. The guest speaker was Mrs. Dharshani Lahandapura, the Chairperson of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA). the public lecture was moderated by Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage, Director-General, Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka.

Admiral (Prof.) Jayanath Colombage commenced the session by citing the recent case on ‘MT New Diamond’ crude oil tanker hazard in the Indian ocean. He praised the joint efforts taken by MEPA, Military forces including Navy, Air force, together with Sri Lankan coastguard in their work towards averting the disaster and successfully dousing the fire off MT. New Diamond. He highlighted that as much as environmental peril is at hand, the legal conundrums, must be addressed in providing a dictum on accountability.

The guest speaker Mrs.Dharshani Lahadapura delivered an illustrious presentation on oil spills which revolved around five important categories. Namely, “What are major oil spills that occur globally and locally, Sri Lanka as a vulnerable state for oil spills, The role of MEPA in case of an oil spill, oil spills as an environmental security threat, and actions taken at MT New Diamond incident and learnings”. She cited major oil spills such as The Torrey Canyon Oil Spill 1967, The Atlantic Empress Oil Spill (1979), The Ixtoc 1 Oil Spill (1979) highlighting the environmental damage caused by each oil spill. Focusing the discussion to Sri Lnaka, She highlighted how Sri Lanka becomes vulnerable with regards to oil spills in terms of country’s strategic location, monetary incapability, lack of technical knowledge in handling a vast disaster as such. Moreover, she shed light on the mandate vested on MEPA and Marine Pollution Prevention Act in relevance to legal framework currently existing on grappling the shipping hazards. She emphazised the responsibility of stakeholders to respond to the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan through forwarding recommendations, inorder to counter, threats of oil spills. Then she discussed the adverse impacts of oil spills to Environmental Security in reference to effects on marine animals, plants, and shore amenities. In addition, effects to human welfare, economic activities were discussed reiterating that with disasters such as these, it ultimately poses threats not only on environmental security but also on economic security, and human security as well.

With reference to the MT New Diamond Case Study, she praised the collective response of Sri Lanka Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, the regional corporation received through Indian Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, and (ship) owner-appointed Salvors, in preventing what could have been recorded as one of the largest oil spills in the history. She further espoused the actions taken through MEPA -as the national authority to coordinate oil spills- in mitigating the disaster through convening emergency response, engaging in scene inspection, measures of recovering expenses, legal action against the captain and quantifying pollution and marine environmental damages. As the initial danger has been mitigated, the safe removal of ship is yet to be inquired. With attention to weather forcast, as Sri Lanka is set to experience North-East Monsoon from mid-October to Deccember, Mrs. Dharshani advised that swift action must be taken.

The discussion further unravelled through the audience as Dr Terney Pradeep Kumara, General Manager Marine Environment Protection Authority(MEPA) Sri Lanka, commented on repercussions of MT New Diamond oil spill. He stated the difficulty of quantifying damages, recovering expenses, the difficulty of detaining the tanker and complexity of taking legal action against the captain of the ship. He highlighted the sensitivity of the East coast which is rich with natural resources and how it was afflicted by the oil spills. He further mentioned the prevailing legal loopholes which needs to be remedied. furthermore, he provided recommendations to be taken by Sri Lanka to avoid future catastrophes.

Capt. K. M. Nirmal P. Silva, (Harbor Master) expressed his view on subsisting deficiencies in the system such as lack of proper coordination and lack of resources. Dr. Dan Malika Gunesekara, Attorney-at-Law contributed with the possible legal avenue that can be taken to solve the crisis under admiralty jurisdiction.

Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe pointed out the necessity of resorting to a quick procedure to solve legal claims. Many other officials including Prof Deepthi Wickramasinghe from University of Colombo expressed willingness contribute through academia and collaborate on providing solutions. The event was concluded successfully identifying legal, institutional gaps that needs to be addressed. Recommendations were made to increase effectuality of legal framework, funding mechanism and increasing private sector contribution. It was agreed that communication and knowledge sharing between each stakeholder must be aptly fulfilled and INSSSL has taken a significant initiative in enabling discussions.

Compiled by Charani Patabendige
Research Assistant intern
Institute of National Security Studies, Sri Lanka (INSSSL)