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Sri Lanka aiming at Asian hub status

New Administration building at Hambantota Port

Colombo, Hambantota capacity targeted at 12.8 million TEUs by 2015

Sri Lanka aims to create an Asian shipping hub capable of competing against Singapore and Dubai by pouring $3.4 billion into expanding ports with Chinese help, after the island's container volumes surged to a record.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has a goal of capitalising on the end of a 26-year civil war to build a trade gateway to emerging markets, and port revenue may almost triple to 72 billion rupees in 2015 from 2010, it has been estimated.

The government forecasts rising cargo levels will enable transportation, including ports, to make up 40 per cent of gross domestic product by 2020, a fourfold gain from last year. Economic growth reached a 32-year high of 8 per cent in 2010 amid Chinese investment in roads and harbours.

Mr Rajapaksa is seeking to take advantage of Sri Lanka's position—31 kilometres off India's southern coast. There lie the main shipping lanes linking the Far East, West Asia, Africa and Europe.

Deeper berths, new terminals and increased efficiency in the capital, Colombo, and in southern Hambantota city will allow bigger, super post-Panamax ships to dock and transfer cargo more quickly to and from smaller vessels that carry goods for India and other emerging markets.

The government is seeking to close the gap with Singapore, the top container port in 2009, and Dubai, which ranked seventh, according to data from London-based Cargo Systems.

Container volume in Sri Lanka surged 22 per cent in 2010 to 4.16 million TEUs.

Last year's level was a record, Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman, Mr Priyath Wickrama, said in a June interview, adding that it is expected to rise 10 per cent in 2011 and as much as 20 per cent next year, with target capacity for the capital and Hambantota combined set at 12.8 million units by 2015.

"Hambantota is the most suitable location to feed the Indian Subcontinent," he said. "A combination of Colombo and Hambantota will compete with Dubai, Salalah and Singapore."

Colombo's three existing terminals currently account for the island's entire cargo volume. Hambantota is still under development. The goal is for five Colombo terminals by 2015 with a total capacity of 10.8 million TEUs.

Sri Lanka's 18 per cent share of Indian transhipment, however, may fall as Indian ports improve and its government tries to match the lower prices offered by the island's terminals, it is projected.

Meanwhile, China has tightened its embrace of Sri Lanka by committing at least $3.7 billion since 2005 for projects from ports to a power plant.

It pledged $306.7 million in 2007 to the initial phase of the port in Hambantota, the highest among donors that also included the Asian Development Bank, Japan and Denmark. The island expects an $808 million loan from Export-Import Bank of China to help pay for the next leg, it has been reported.

Mr Rajapaksa’s ports plan aims to tap that prospective gain as well as to deepen trade ties between emerging markets. Port projects are expected to spur more foreign investment and create about 55,000 jobs in Colombo and Hambantota.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority
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Colombo 01, Sri Lanka.
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