SL loses chance to claim US$ 750M
By Leon Berenger
The State lost an estimated US$ 750 million owing to alleged blunders on the part of the authorities in dealing with the MT New Diamond vessel that was crippled following a major fire on board earlier this month, a senior maritime legal expert said on 25 September.
“The authorities should have thrown the first rope on the vessel by calling in a salvo team and thereafter proceeded to claim one fourth of the ship’s value along with the cargo.
But this was not the case and instead the vessel’s owner was given time to hire a salvo team from Singapore and in turn denied Lanka’s right to the claim which is also known as a reward payment,” senior maritime lawyer and former Executive Director of the Ceylon Shipping Corporation, Dan Malaka Gunasekera said.
He added, the authorities should have examined the International Salvo Convention of 1989 where the host nation receives the right to take hold of the vessel.
He stated, the relevant officialdom should have sought proper legal advice before presenting an expense bill to the vessel’s owner, adding that now it was too late to rectify the matter.
The Government has forwarded a claim for Rs 340 million to the ship’s owner for expenses incurred by the Navy and other stakeholders to save the vessel and crew.
The Attorney General’s Department later upped this figure by another Rs 100 million. The ship’s owner has already agreed to pay the initial sum put forward by the authorities.
However, a senior shipping official refuted the claims of blundering on the part of the relevant authorities, saying that the Government had acted according to proper legal advice and nothing else.
“It would have been proper for legal experts to have offered their advice earlier on since it would have been accepted, but that was not the case,” Director General of Merchant Shipping, Ajith Senivaratne said.
The authorities needed to depend on foreign assistance in helping to control the fire on the vessel and prevent a major catastrophe since the Navy and the other State agencies were not prepared for a situation of that magnitude, he added.