Congestion at Hambantota port: Vessels anchored in outer harbour await bunkering

Expansion on the cards to meet growing demand


By Suresh Perera

The government will go ahead with the proposed expansion of the newly-built, US$ multi-million Hambantota port as more berths are required to handle the prevailing shipping congestion, a top industry official said.

"The two existing berths are fully occupied and there are vessels anchored in the outer harbor awaiting bunkering", says Dr. Priyath B. Wickrama, Chairman, Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

Dismissing as "absolute nonsense" claims that this maritime facility in Sri Lanka’s Southern province is a "white elephant", he asserted that the port is very active now and a few more general cargo berths are needed to cater to the growing demand from shippers.

As a regional trans-shipment port, Hambantota offers immense potential, the Chairman underscored. "After Phase 11 of this ambitious project is completed, we can go for more shipping lines and generate greater volumes of business".

The Hambantota port, built at an estimated cost of US$ 361 million by M/s China Harbor Engineering Company and Sinohydro Corporation Joint Venture, began in January 2008 and was completed within the targeted 39 months.Reacting further to flak that "Hambantota is a port without vessels", Wickrama said, "The port is now doing brisk business.

As a long-term infrastructure development project, it took us some time to reach full capacity. After three years, the port has now reached its full potential".

Referring to the Jaya Terminal of the Colombo port, he pointed out that it was after a lapse of 20 years that the one million TEU (container) target was achieved. It took another four years for this turnout to climb to six million.

Long-term infrastructure development projects such as ports do not achieve their full potential overnight, the SLPA boss continued. "It takes time and the wait pays in the end".

"These are huge investments. The benefits of long-term developments projects are passed on to future generations. They are for posterity. We are now reaping the full benefits of such projects launched years ago", Wickrama noted.

It is unfortunate that there people who project a negative image without understanding the fundamentals of a long-term infrastructure development project, he opined. "We have to move step by step with confidence".

Q: At the Hambantota port, how many new berths are you looking at to handle the growing demand?

A: Three more general cargo berths. We will need seven to meet the demand over the next 10 years. Thereafter, we have to expand again. This is considered a free port and there is significant investor interest in the zone itself.

Q: Does this port have the depth to accommodate any wide-bodied, modern vessel?

A: Yes, it can handle any big ship. In fact, there are only 15 ports of this depth in the world which can take in the big vessels. Even ports in some developed countries don’t have the depth and crane reach to handle wide-bodies vessels.

We have installed cross cranes at an enormous height. The Colombo port has the world’s largest cranes.

Q: How would you respond to criticism that Hambantota was not a suitable location for a port?

Q: This is totally unfounded. This was the best location for a port in Sri Lanka. Around 1,000-2,000 years ago one of the world’s busiest ports was at located at a place called Godavaya, about 2-3 km from the present site. Hambantota at the time was the main base for trading. It was after colonization that Colombo and Galle were converted as their bases.


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