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Hambantota Port to exploit Lanka's locational advantage

Capt. Nihal Keppetipola Managing Director Sri Lanka Ports Authority

A little more than two and a half years ago, when we commenced the main construction work of phase one, the construction site was nothing more than the farmer saltern, and the project was scheduled to be completed by April 15, 2011.

However, due to the hard work and dedication of the SLPA management headed by its dynamic Chairman, the project culminated ahead of schedule, and the newly constructed 17 metre deep inland harbour basin began to embrace her first inflow of waters on August 15 this year.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa inaugurating the Karadiya Mangallaya at the Hambantota Port.

The important feature of the construction work was that as the port was built inland, we could easily excavate the dry soil without the assistance of the breakwater and paved the way for the sea water to come in later on.

The finishing of phase one in such a short period of just over two and a half years is considered a great engineering feat in the global port construction sphere. And today, the first vessel will be touching the port's waters.

The Hambantota Port has been planned in such a way that initially it functions as a Service and an Industrial Port handling conventional cargo vessels, i.e. bulk/break bulk and subsequently will be developed to handle container transshipment, depending upon the growth of container volumes int he sub continent in the future.

Therefore our main focus initially is the provision of ancillary services to ships, handling general cargo and generation of entrepot businesses and other port-related industries in and around Hambantota.

In October 2009 we laid the foundation to construct a fully-fledged Bunkering Facility and a Tank Farm in the Hambantota Port which consists of fourteen tanks having a total storage capacity of 80,000 cubic metres of product oil at a cost of US$ 76 million. And almost 50 percent of its work has now been completed.

Around 200 to 250 ships sail daily close to Hambantota and our target is to attract at least one-sixth of the fleet for refuelling at competitive prices.

It is a well-known truth in the Shipping and Logistics Industry that speed is the decisive factor in competitive business. For a shipping line, diverting a ship affects the company's bottom-line and the business decisions to call a port or bypass it revolves round such costs. Hambantota Port which revives the historic silk route, used by Arabs to explore Asia, is located ten nautical miles off the world's busiest east-west shipping lane.

Ideally situated

Hambantota is ideally situated at the intersection of major international sea trading routes.

This apart, there are enough land resources around Hambantota to be used as hinterland for port related activities and this could attract many logistics-related services into the area to service the maritime sector.

Initially, over two thousand hectares of land will be made available for logistics and free zone activities around Port of Hambantota which is well-connected with the newly-built Southern highway, the railway lines and the Mattala Airport.

The Hambantota Port is gearing up to embrace a massive investment plan worth billions of rupees and the Cabinet Appointed Negotiating Committee has already called for proposals for Public-Private Partnerships for a host of business ventures and by now 27 investors have expressed their interest for investment.

With these ventures, the infrastructure and other facilities in and around Hambantota will be improved and the resulting boom in the shipping industry with the construction of the port will be able to play a pivotal role towards the economic development of Sri Lanka.

We have already signed an MOU for the second phase of the Hambantota Port project, the construction of which is scheduled to commence during this year at a cost of US$ 800 million.

The second phase will be completed within three years and once the whole project, as per the master plan, is completed, will provide berthing facilities for over 30 ships making it the biggest port in South Asia.

Information of historical facts

Hambantota has a history of over 2500 years as per the written sources such as Mahawamsa, other archaeological analysis and folklore. It extends to a history of 30,000 years according to the facts discovered in Bundala after an archaeological excavation very recently.

From ancient time, Hambantota situated in the Kingdom of Magama has been inherited as a commercial centre due to Godawaya harbour. There are historical facts that it had been a vital area for all the reigns in Sri Lanka.

Patronage and the attention of the Government had been made to Hambantota area for the salt industry from ancient time because of the existing topographic conditions. Facts are found that Hambantota was a ruling centre of the colonial governors in the colonial era.

The most populous fact of the historical folklore about Hambantota is that king Gajaba who governed South India landed to this Port together with 12,000 captured Solies and this became Hambantota as the vessels on which Solies brought were called Hamban.

Prof Senarath Paranawithana reveals that this area was a safe location for anchoring vessels of mariners and it became Hambantota as this the port that Malaysians came to Sri Lanka.

A Malay Rifle regiment was established by the English to vanquish the king after capturing saltern.

At the beginning of colonization, Hambantota city was governed by the Portuguese and Dutch respectively. Hambantota was the location that the Dutch established their eastern regiment. Descriptive information regarding Hambantota are revealed in the English regime.

Hambantota became developed as an urban colony in this era. Hambantota had developed as a maritime port and British Reports record that several cargo ships sailed from this port every year by Walker and Sons Company.

Hambantota town is very attractive as the mountain ranges of about 18 metre high embraced the costal area. The historical Kachcheri and the Hambantota Rest House are located in the summit of the mountain.

Ruins of the English regime exist in the Hambantota town even now. The Martello tower, Gallows, Light House, Kachcheri and cemetery are specific among them.

According to records Leonard Woolfe is the person who first viewed about an International Port in Hambantota in the past.

Additionally it is noted in the records of immigrants from Arabia Rome, China and Persia.

Information of recent facts

Late D M Rajapaksa was the first representative of the State Council from Hambantota at that moment. After him, late D A Rajapaksa was the successor. The greatest expectation of Hambantota was a fishery harbour. It was a necessity of people in the area.

Thus, late D A Rajapaksa with his foresight realized the importance of a Port in Hambantota. He observed the non availability of a Port between Trincomalee and Galle area the abundance of ships passing near the Hambantota coast as a result of progressing maritime transportation.

He conceptualized the way of supplying fresh water and other needs for the vessels. But it did not materialize as all countries had closed economies and the monopoly of all trades centred around the Colombo Port and the city.

Colombo Port became a modern and fully fledged container handling Port rapidly having changed the path in 1978. Sri Lanka became a maritime centre as the Colombo Port was facilitated with equipment and infrastructure.

The Galle Face coastal area was full of large ships which had never been there before. Parallel to this, with the new liberalized economic policies introduced all over the world, countries such as Singapore, Hongkong, Malaysia, China, Japan, Dubai initiated for a rapid development.

Cargo transportation became a large networked business after the development of import and export consequently the sea area five or six kilometres away from Hambantota became an efficient and trade complex shipping route.

Today around 200 to 300 vessels pass through this sea route.

The Hambantota Port became a reality after the election of President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Ports Minister of the PA Government in 2001 for a short period of three months. With the election of President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President in 2005, he drew attention to make Magampura Port as one of the five Ports scheduled to be constructed to make Sri Lanka an International Maritime Centre in the world under the Mahinda Chintana manifesto.

The President said: "I am determined to make our country as the pearl of the Asian Silk Route once again and develop as maritime aviation, commercial, trade, hub linking west and east utilizing excellent geographical location of our motherland. I will create Hambantota as a fully-fledged interport.

I will establish an Economic Zone covering the area from Hambantota to Ambilipitiya to supply fuel, fast foods, drugs and other services."

International facts

There had not been any previous dialogue to construct the Hambantota Port conceptualizing on domestic consumer requirements. The main purpose for constructing a port in Hambantota is the location within the vicinity of an international shipping route.

The possibility of using Magampura Port locally as a hub for the development of Eastern area just after the war prevailed for last 30 years is a big result.

It is a historical condition of maritime transportation that Sri Lanka is located as an island in a central geographical location among Asia, Africa and Oceania continents.

The strategic location closer to the second and fourth strong economics such as China and India respectively among the gigantic economics in Middle East, India, China, Malaysia, Australia, is the reason to construct a harbour and to make it a fully functioned economic zone.

To be continued

 

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