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A 30-year success story of Sri Lanka Ports Authority


August 1 marks Sri Lanka Ports Authority's (SLPA) 30th year. As a member of the pioneer team it is with a deep sense of satisfaction that I trace the chequered history of this unique organization.


Birth of the SLPA

Creation of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority on August 1, 1979 was the brainchild of the late Lalith Athulathmudali, Trade and Shipping Minister. It was a landmark move in the annals of the ports of Sri Lanka. This brought about the merger of three separate entities i.e. Colombo Port Commission, Port (Cargo) Corporation and Port Tally and Protective Services Corporation into a single authority. This gave reality to the concept of a unified and autonomous body under a single line of command to better co-ordination and direct port activities and their future development eliminating, duplication, overlapping of activities, lack of co-ordination and made it possible for overall planning for development and efficient management of the ports. The complex task of integration was effected smoothly with the co-operation of 23,000 employees in 63 trades in three organizations.

Forward march

Inauguration - Queen Elizabeth Container Terminal August 1, 1980
In the mid 60s, the then Colombo Port Commission planed the establishment of a bulk handling berth by way of extension of the Queen Elizabeth Quay. But as the container mode was catching on at the time and trend gathering momentum, the Port Commission decided to use it for container handling. Due to financial constraints the proposed project could not get off the ground. However, the newly created Ports Authority gave priority to this project. This container berth was designed and constructed by our engineering and technical staff at a cost of Rs. 100 million was ceremonially commissioned on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority on August 1, 1980. It is noteworthy that Port of Colombo was the first Port in South Asia to install gantry cranes with SLPA's own funds. In 1989, another gantry crane was installed provided an annual handling capacity of 250,000 TEUS.

The facilities provided in Colombo on par with container ports in any developed country has contributed to its becoming a leading port for transshipment in the region serving all major lines traversing the shipping routes between the East and West. Improvement in efficiency and infrastructure reflected in Jaye Container Terminal JCT's performance in 2003 enhanced the capacity of the JCT to approximately 1.85 million TEUS per annum.

The challenge is imminent and clear

I firmly believe that with the blessings of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who eradicated terrorism from our Motherland and with the guidance of Ports and Aviation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and Chairman of the SLPA Dr. Priyath Bandu Wickrama, the SLPA with his determination and dedication faces the challenge successfully accomplishing two major projects namely the Colombo South Harbour Project and the Hambantota Harbour Project, on the given deadline.

Hambantota-industrial and service port

A sea port at Hambantota would intercept the main shipping routes from Aden to Singapore and tap the west sea traffic of over 100 ships that presently bypass Sri Lanka on daily basis. The diversion of Hambantota off the international sea route would be a matter of 40 minutes instead of four hours to Colombo.

Availability of extensive land areas will be developed for port related activities and its placement along trade routes linking ASEAN nations with the consumerist economies of the Middle-East, Europe and America. The demand for bunkering facilities together with transshipment, break bulking entreport and servicing is constantly increasing.

Advantages of Hambantota Harbour

* It is a natural bay

* Protection is afforded by Hambantota headland reducing the impact of waves

* No significant impact due to South Western monsoon waves.

* Brakewater has to be designed mainly to protect the harbour from the southern swells and sea waves of the North Eastern monsoons.

* Tidal currents are not strong along the Sri Lanka coast.

* The harbour has an area of 200ha with an entrance at the 16-18m depth

* Minimum depth of 13 meters in respect of the inner harbour area and other harbour area could be achieved without rock dredging.

* The availability of 5,600 ha of commercially exploitable land for port related activities.

It is noteworthy to mention that with the humanitarian approach of the Government the President, Ports Minister, steps have been taken to provide alternative houses, financial assistance and land for the people whose traditional houses are lost due to the project. Further, the Hambantota Harbour project would generate 6,000 direct jobs and 50,000 indirect jobs. The stage one of this giant projects is expected to start its commercial operations by 2011.

Colombo - South harbour

The proposed Colombo South Harbour will be located west of the present South West breakwater in an area of approximately 600 hectares. The proposed harbour will have three terminals each with the length of 1,200m to accommodate three berths alongside depths of 18 meters. The channel width of the harbour will be 560 meters and the depth 20 meters with the harbour basing depth 18 meters. Development of the Phase - 1 of the Colombo south Harbour will be carried out in three stages. The first stage of development involves infrastructure and construction of one terminal as a public-private partnership. The Asian Development Bank has extended a loan of US$300 million for the basic infrastructure of breakwater and dreadging. The other two stages involve construction of the other two terminals. The construction work commenced in April 2008 and the terminals will be operational by 2011 or 2012. This project is expected to be implemented with funds from the Chinese Government. The total estimated cost of the project is 310 million.

I pay tribute to late Lalith Athulathmudali the then Trade and Shipping Minister, late Wimal Amarasekara, the first Chairman of the Authority, late K.S.C.D. Fonseka, Managing Director and late S.K.W. Dias, General Manager and all past and present employees for their contribution for the success of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

The writer is Former Assistant Secretary of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority

By A. Godwin de ALWIS