'Will not accept contaminated Chinese fertiliser,' Sri Lanka's director-general of agriculture affirms

Colombo, Sri LankaWritten By: Dasuni AthaudaUpdated: Nov 03, 2021, 12:30 PM IST

Ajantha de Silva Photograph:(Twitter)

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Sri Lanka has already sent a non-compliance report in this regard to China, saying the country has not allowed for a bulk permit to the Chinese consignment of fertilisers

A batch of contaminated fertiliser sent from China appears to be the centre of a heated diplomatic row between Sri Lanka and China at the moment.

As per Sri Lanka Plant Protection Ordinance, no product should contain microbes; but as per tests and analysis carried on the Chinese samples, a bulk permit cannot be allowed as both tests carried out on the samples showed the batch is contaminated with harmful microbes.

When asked about the Chinese officials' stance to re-test the contaminated batch of fertiliser citing that Sri Lankan tests were not on par with international standards; Dr. Ajantha de Silva, the Director-General of Agriculture, said that tests carried out across the world are largely uniform in practice and standard and that a test carried out in one country is easily acceptable in another.

Sri Lanka has already sent a non-compliance report in this regard to China adding that the country has not allowed for a bulk permit to the Chinese consignment of fertiliser; preventing it from entry or loading in Sri Lanka.

Earlier, two Sri Lankan ministers of the governing faction gave two contrasting viewpoints on whether or not the Sri Lankan authorities will re-test the said batch of fertiliser with a third party company accepted by both China and Sri Lanka.

It was Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Promoting the Production and Regulating the Supply of Organic Fertiliser, Shasheendra Rajapaksa who first said that Sri Lanka has in fact agreed to go ahead with a re-test which was then countered by the country’s Minister of Agriculture, Mahindananda Aluthgamage the following day; who said that no re-test would be done and that the said batch of contaminated fertiliser will not be allowed into the country.

However, Dr. Ajantha de Silva refrained from commenting on the difference in opinion among ministers and stressed that Sri Lanka’s present stance remains unchanged on not to test the fertiliser.

Just a few days ago; the Chinese Embassy issued a statement saying that The People’s Bank of Sri Lanka was blacklisted by the Economic and Commercial Office of the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka for failing to make the payment for the said batch of fertilizer according to the Letter of Credit and the contracts between two parties.

However, People’s Bank said that it is bound by an enjoining order issued by the Commercial High Courts of Sri Lanka with regard to the trade transaction in question, which precludes the bank from processing the payment, and any and all future course of payments will be done as per the directive of courts.

When questioned about the Chinese Embassy’s move to Black List the People’s Bank of Sri Lanka for failure to pay the agreed amount as per contract terms, Dr. Ajantha de Silva said “I don't think Sri Lanka has dishonored the contract at any time; what I feel is the Chinese Supplier has done the dishonor to the contract by sending fertilizer that contains microbes. They have breached the contract.”

He added that if China is to send fertiliser; it MUST be a new batch that complies with Sri Lanka Standards and legal framework in importing organic granular fertiliser.

Despite all of these developments; the vessel carrying the consignment of contaminated fertiliser appears to be ​​61 nautical miles away from Weligama, according to marine traffic websites.

It is reported that the Hippo Spirit, the ship carrying Chinese Organic Fertilizer, did not return to China after the first samples were rejected by Sri Lanka.

Instead, the Hippo Spirit had sailed to Singapore and altered its course back to Sri Lanka, without returning to China.

The ship also appeared to have changed its name as per data available online which showed the Hippo Spirit ship in Hambantota on the 24th of October under the name Seiyo Explorer.

The Hippo Spirit and the Seiyo Explorer both share the same IMO number, and therefore it can be confirmed the Hippo Spirit is the Seiyo Explorer.
The IMO Ship Identification Number is a unique seven-digit number that remains unchanged through a vessel’s lifetime and is linked to its hull, regardless of any changes of names, flags, or owners.

After going  out of range on tracking systems it was confirmed on the 31st of October that the vessel has now entered the Sea of Sri Lanka and is off the coast of Weligama, in the south of Sri Lanka which is also in close proximity to the Hambantota Harbour.
Speaking on his stance of whether Sri Lanka’s move from chemical to organic fertiliser is a  success, Dr. Ajantha de Silva said - “ It is a challenge but I am positive we can do it; we need to find proper organic fertilizer sources with continuous supply either from local or international suppliers; then we will be able to do the needful without any problem.”

Sri Lanka’s sowing season known as the “Maha” season is underway with only a fraction of farmers kickstarting the cultivating season; while the majority of farmers across the island continue to wait for organic fertilizer to be provided to them.

Many farmers across the island have been engaging in protests for months over the ongoing fertiliser crisis which has now turned into a diplomatic spat between China and Sri Lanka.