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Will New Diamond fire be an environmental disaster

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by J.A.A.S.Ranasinghe

Former Director and Acting Chairman of Marine Environment Protection Authority

MT New Diamond VLCC, Very Large Crude Carrier, flagged in Panama was reportedly carrying over 300,000 Mt of Crude Oil on its voyage to Pradip Port, India from Al Ahmadi in Kuwait when it caught fire off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka resulting in the death of a crew member and the evacuation of 23, five Greek and 18 Philippine nationals. The fire that broke out as a result of the explosion of a boiler resulted in a massive fire in the engine room and the bridge, which controls the ship. Fortunately, the fire had not spread to the oil tanks which would h ave resulted in a major oil spill. If the three million barrels of oil leaked, it could have spealt devastation to many of the marine mammals that live in vibrant habitats along the eastern coast of Sri Lanka and the vibrant eastern economy where a hive of activities is taking place such as fisheries, tourisms, agriculture and consequently to the livelihood income of the people.

 

Effects of Petroleum Contamination

Petroleum contamination is a growing environmental concern that harms both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems equally. However, in view of the major disasters caused to the marine environment, the public and regulatory and scientific communities have given more attention to the contamination of marine habitats. This is because marine oil spills can have a serious economic consequence on coastal activities as well as on those who exploit the resources of the sea. Thus, communities that are at risk of oil disasters must anticipate the consequences and prepare for them. The above mentioned disaster is an eye opener for all the stakeholders to take a serious view.

Marine environmental pollution caused by petroleum is of great concern because of the fact that petroleum hydrocarbons are toxic to all forms of life and harm both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. In recent years the pollution of marine habitats has caught the attention of researchers and environmentalists owing to the serious impact of oil spills on marine life, as well as on people whose career relies on the exploitation of the ocean’s resources. Additionally, marine life may be affected by clean-up operations, whatever the precautions taken. It may also be indirectly affected by the physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live in.

The writer has had firsthand information while being a former Director of the Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) and has attended series of scientific and technical sessions delivered by the International Maritime Organization (IOM) and effectively contributed to the deliberations with regard to OPRC (Oil Spill Preparedness and Response) a decade ago and it is with such an authoritativeness, the writer compiled this short essay on the effects of petroleum oil spills on marine life. This exercise would not be a worthwhile attempt, if the economic impact of oil spills on coastal activities with special reference to eastern theatre in which the above major fire brokeout and on the people who exploit the resources of the sea.

 

GLOBAL OIL SPILL TREND

Over the last 50 years, there has been a marked downward trend in oil spills from tankers. The average number of spills per year in the 1970s was about 79 and has now decreased by over 90 percent to a low of six according to the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF). The lowest annual number of spills was recorded in 2019 and the highest in 1974. If one were to analyze the quantities of oil spilt, one would note that approximately 5.86 million tons of oil have been lost as a result of tanker incidents globally since 1970. However, there has been a significant reduction in volume of oil spilt through the decades. The total amount spilt per decade has reduced by about 95% since the 1970s.

An interesting pattern of alternating sharp decline and stability can be observed for average volume of oil spilt per decade. Nonetheless, quantity of oil spilt in a particular year or a decade is unpredictable, and the trend can be hugely distorted by a single large spill. In case, the fire caused to MT New Diamond resulted in an oil spill over 270,000 Mts, it would have been the one of the major oil spills recorded in recent times in Sri Lanka. The most frequent causes of oil spills are allisions/collisions, groundings and Fires. However, the proportion of groundings has decreased over the decades, making allisions, collisions and Fires, the current most frequent cause of spills. Today, about 99.99% of oil transported by sea arrives safely at its destination. The positive reports on trends in oil tanker spills endorse the hard work by governments, industry and ITOPF in improving safety and standards of operations.

With a spate of major disasters linked to major shipping routes in the past few years, the time is opportune for the world leaders and the international authorities such as IOM to have the wisdom and courage with a view to taking stock on global shipping reforms. It must be pointed out here that Sri Lanka witness more than 800 vessels passing through Sri Lanka per day posing an imminent threat to the Sri Lankan economy. Hence, it cannot be completely ruledout another disaster of this magnitude, if preventive measures are not taken.

 

Crude oil and its properties

The ill fate MT New Diamond carried crude oil which is a complex mixture of organic compounds. These mainly consist of hydrocarbons, in addition to heterocyclic compounds and some heavy metals. The different hydrocarbons that make up crude oil come in a wide range of molecular weights and structure compounds. These compounds include methane gas, high molecular weight tars, asphaltenes, resins, waxes and bitumen. They also include straight and branched chains, single or condensed rings and aromatic rings such as the monocyclic (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene). They additionally include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) such as naphthalene, anthracene and phenanthrene. Obviously, the chemical composition of crude oil is injurious not only to the mankind but also to marine ecosystems.

Physical contact is the major route of exposure and usually affects birds and furred mammals. These animals rely on their outer coats for buoyancy and warmth. Consequently, they often succumb to hypothermia, drowning and smothering when oil flattens and adheres to the outer layer. A second general exposure route is through the ingestion or inhalation of the hydrocarbon by organisms that reside on the surface. Exposure by these routes leads to absorption into the bloodstream via the gastrointestinal or respiratory tracts.

 

Toxicity of oil dispersants

Oil dispersants (57 chemical ingredients approved for use by the US EPA) are a common tool used after oil spills in marine environments. They break up oil slicks on the water surface and increase the oil’s rate of biodegradation. Oil dispersants are quickly used when other means, such as oil containment and removal, are insufficient. However, consequences of the toxicity of oil spill dispersants alone or in the presence of oil must be evaluated. Generally, undispersed oil poses the greatest threat to shorelines and surface-dwelling organisms. However, most dispersed oil remains in the water column where it mainly threatens pelagic and benthic organisms.

Fate of oil spills in the marine habitats

After oil is spilled at sea and with the effect of wind and water current, the oil spreads out and moves on the water surface as a slick a few millimetres thick. At the same time, it undergoes a series of chemical and physical changes. These processes are collectively termed ‘weathering’. Weathering causes the spilled oil to break down and become heavier than water. Some of these processes, like the natural dispersion of oil into water, lead to the removal of the oil from the sea surface and facilitate its natural breakdown in the marine environment. Others, particularly the formation of water-in-oil emulsions, cause the oil to become more persistent and remain at sea or on the shoreline for prolonged periods of time. The speed and relative importance of these processes depend on a number of factors. These include the quantity spilled, the oil’s initial physical and chemical characteristics, weather and sea conditions and whether the oil remains at sea or is washed ashore. Ultimately, the marine environment usually eliminates spilled oil through the long-term process of biodegradation.

 

Oil spills on marine organisms

Ultimately, the impact of oil on marine organisms depends on the fate of the oil. As previously described, when oil is present in the environment, it is either dispersed in the top layer of the water (littoral zone) or remains on the surface and, consequently, on the coastal areas. If the oil is not dispersed, it remains on the surface. In this case, currents bring the oil towards coastal areas which harms coastal organisms like invertebrates, mammals and birds. However, if the oil is dispersed, organisms, such as fish, plankton and larvae, are immediately subjected to oil toxicity.

 

Oil spills on planktonic organisms

Zooplankton is a particularly important food resource, especially for baleen whales. It can influence or control the primary productivity by top-down effects in return. Its population dynamic change can influence the biomass of other marine animals like fish by bottom-up effects. Some zooplankton, such as copepods, euphausiids and mysids, assimilate hydrocarbons directly from seawater and by ingesting oil droplets and oil contaminated food. The ingestion of oil by these organisms often causes mortality, while surviving organisms often show developmental and reproductive abnormalities.

 

Oil spills on coral reefs

In addition, recreational attractions for divers, coral reefs are considered to be important constituents of marine ecosystems. This is because they are important nurseries for shrimp, fish and other animals. The aquatic organisms that live within and around the coral reefs are at risk of exposure to the toxic substances within oil, as well as smothering. They are rapidly deteriorating because of a variety of environmental and anthropogenic pressures. Thus, they are suffering significant changes in diversity, species abundance and habitat structure worldwide. Oil dispersants are potentially harmful to marine life including coral reefs. In a study using coral nubbins in coral reef ecotoxicology testing, found that dispersed oil and oil dispersants are harmful to soft and hard coral species at early life stages.

 

Oil spills on fish

Due to the well-developed hepatic mixed function oxygenase (MFO) system, in addition to the reactivity of the metabolites that would not be released in a toxic form during digestion and absorption, most fish, even in heavily oil-contaminated environments, do not accumulate and retain high concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons. Thus, they are not likely to transfer them to predators. Thus, no serious threat is predicted.

 

Oil spills on seabirds

As one of the major routes of exposure, physical contact usually affects birds. For example, thousands of African penguins (Spheniscus demerus) were oiled following the 2000 Treasure oil spill in South Africa.An evaluation of the impact of oil spills on seabirds has not been fully appreciated during incidents, despite pressure from the public concern, media and other interested parties for precise and up-to-date information on the damage. Consequently, the approximate numbers of seabird casualties involved in many major spills have only been estimated, while impacts at the population level have been difficult to determine. Natural variation and the huge range of factors that influence bird population statistics make it difficult to assess the impact of oil spill on sea birds.

 

Oil spills on marine mammals

Marine mammals include bottlenose dolphins, fins, humpbacks, rights, sei whales, sperm whales, manatees, cetaceans, seals, sea otters and pinnipeds. As previously indicated, the physical contact of oil with furred mammals usually affects these animals because they rely on their outer coats for buoyancy and warmth. Consequently, these animals often succumb to hypothermia, drowning and smothering when oil flattens and adheres to the outer layer.

As part of their activities, all marine mammals spend a considerable amount of time at the surface. Here, they swim, breathe, feed or rest. Thus, the possibility of their contact with a surface slick, water-in-oil emulsion, or tar balls, is high. In heavy pelage marine mammals, such as fur seals, sea otters and polar bears, this contact may lead to fouling. Polar bears and otters groom themselves regularly as a means of maintaining the insulating properties of the fur and may, thereby, ingest oil. Animals with smooth surfaces or relatively little to no pelage, such as whales, dolphins, manatees and most seals, have an advantage as oil would have fewer tendencies to adhere to their surface.

Oil that contaminates a shore is likely to severely affect pinnipeds. Pinnipeds require such areas for nursery and, to a lesser extent, otters and bears. Some of the oil is eventually returned in subtidal sediments, where it may transfer to gray whales, walrus and some seals. Such species feed heavily on benthic animals.

When marine mammals encounter fresh oil, they are likely to inhale volatile hydrocarbons evaporating from the surface slick. These volatile fractions contain toxic monoaromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene and xylenes) and low molecular weight aliphatics with anaesthetic properties. The inhalation of these volatile hydrocarbon compounds is potentially harmful. The inhalation of concentrated petroleum vapours can cause the inflammation of and damage to the mucus membranes of airways, lung congestion or even pneumonia. Volatile benzene and toluene, which can be inhaled, can be transferred rapidly from the bloodstream into the lungs. Furthermore, they can accumulate from the blood into the brain and liver, causing neurological disorders and liver damage.

 

Oil spills on marine plants

In several aspects, aquatic plants are important to the functioning of ecosystems. These include the fact that they are oxygen producers, their ability to sequester carbon and for their base position in aquatic food chains. In addition, they serve as nursery, feeding and breeding habitats for a variety of animal and plant species, including recreationally and commercially important fish. Plants and animals are affected by the oil in which they come into contact with as a result of an oil spill. In their review of toxicities of oils, dispersants and dispersed oils to algae and aquatic plants.

 

Communities at risk of marine oil spills/anticipation and preparation

The threatening of marine environments with the petroleum oil spills has caught the attention of many communities, encouraging them to develop their own plans and policy issues. These have ranged from permitting or prohibiting increased oil transport volumes, to developing the capacity to respond to and recover from potential spill disasters.

Local communities that depend on the fishing industry, aquaculture and tourism should realize that the impact of an oil spill is governed by complex factors. These include the oil spill’s volume and location relative to fishing/cultivation areas, currents, tides and wave action. Other factors include whether species harvested in the region are sedentary or mobile, as well as government decisions relating to fishing bans and compensation schemes.

Economic impact of oil spills in the Eastern Region

Though Eastern Province (EP) has primarily an agriculture-based economy, it has an appreciable contribution to the national economy by way of Fish production and tourisms. Approximately, 25% of the nations fish production is generated by the EP and livelihood income of the fishing community employed in the coastal belt has a tremendous impact of the socio-economic status of the people. The EP has also received an unprecedented development in the tourism sector in the last few decades in that Pottuvil Arugam Bay, Lahugala Panama Beach, Pigeon Island, Nilaveli Beach have become attractive tourist destinations. Hence, any possible oil spill of a huge magnitude could have a devastating impact on all these vibrant economic sectors. Marine oil spills can have a serious impact not only on marine life, but on the gamut of all economic coastal activities and the communities that exploit the resources of the sea as seen above.

Involvement of multiplicity of Players

All in all, the joint efforts put in by Sri Lanka Navy, Air Force, Ports Authority and our Indian counterparts in dousing this fire have to be commended. His Excellency’s timely appreciation to all the players in averting this major calamity is most praiseworthy. It would be grossly unfair, if the names of the Chairperson and the General Manager of the Marine Environment Protection Authority namely Mrs. Dharshani Lahandapura and Dr. Terny Pradeep Kumara gone unnoticed for the magnificent roles they played behind the scene in educating the public and the media as to the possible marine consequences that could have arisen of this catastrophe as well as the mitigatory measures silently adopted to meet the possible oil spill.

Ironically, the above incident has raised many unanswered questions as a whole. As organizations, how much of advanced preparedness the authorities have set in motion to avert maritime catastrophes of this magnitude. Sri Lanka is woefully lacking the sources and resources to meet any eventuality of this magnitude, though it is claimed as a major maritime hub. As committed institutions, what proactive measures have we taken as a nation to deal with the sensitive marine ecosystems referred to above. It is intended to deal with these aspects in a separate column in due course.


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Features

Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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