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Colombo Port yet to gear for mega carriers

Mega container carriers may have to be shut out in another two years' time, if the Port of Colombo does not undergo modifications at the earliest. Modern deep sea facilities will have to be effected soon, to take in gigantic container carriers.

Mega container vessels then have no other option except to opt for modern ports such as Salala-Aiden, Port of Dubai, Tanjum Pelapase of Malaysia or the Port of Singapore. The Port of Chennai is also developing fast and it would become a hub in the region in the near future. The development of the Colombo South Harbour will be the only viable solution if we are to maintain the hub status, Chairman Aitken Spence Shipping Ltd., Dr. Parakrama Dissanayake said.

Dr. Dissanayake made these observations at a seminar on the 'Current global shipping trends and its implications on the Port of Colombo' organised by the Transport and Logistic Division of the University of Moratuwa.

Mega container carriers need a 16 - metre draft and also gantry cranes that could handle 22 containers across the ship. Cranes with double trolleys, faster crane improvements, more cranes per ship, automation and reduction of dual times are facilities that will be necessary to meet the demands of the advancing global shipping industry, Dr. Dissanayake said.

If authorities fail to go ahead with the development activities of the Colombo South harbour there would be a capacity crunch by the year 2008 and the present harbour basin within the port will not be able to accommodate vessels with a length of 400 metres. Approximately 30 percent of the ships coming on stream are 8000 TEU plus vessels having a draft of 15 to 16 metres which the present port cannot cater to.

In the 1980s the average size of a ship was 975 TEUs with the largest being 3,057 TEUs. Today the average size of a ship is 2191 TEUs while the largest in the world fleet is 9200 TEUs. There are designs in place for the construction of Malacca Max with a capacity of 18100 TEUs and Samzung Suez Max with a capacity of 14 000 TEUs.

The Port of Colombo from 1997 to 2002 handled a volume of 1.7 million TEUs per annum. Currently the Port of Colombo has an annual design capacity of 3.3 million TEUs. The demand to accommodate a larger volume will outpace the capacity by end 2008, he said.

Despite the comparative advantage we had over the other ports in the region the growth was flat. As a result of the reforms initiated by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) in 2002 the Port of Colombo witnessed a double digit growth and handled approximately 2 million TEUs.

Jaya Container Terminal and South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) with world class terminal facilities have done well in sustaining growth levels during 2005.

The cost of developing the south, west and east terminals of the Colombo South harbour with the breakwater and dredging work would be around US$ 1.6 billion. The first phase which would include the construction of the breakwater and dredging will cost nearly US$ 300 Million. The construction of the first terminal quay walls and equipment would cost approximately US$ 280 million.

The BOI is looking at attracting US$ 1 billion in FDI in 2006. BOI with SLPA could use the Colombo South Harbour as the flagship project to attract foreign investment. The private and public sector partnership will be an effective mechanism to accelerate the development activities of the port, Dr. Dissanayake said.
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