Sri Lanka is on an investment drive to develop its ports facilities, including the main commercial port in the capital of Colombo and a new facility in Hambantota, in the south.
“Our target is to reach 5-billion dollars in FDI (Foreign Direct Investments) by 2015, only through the port sector,” Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman, Priyath Bandu Wickrama said.
“The committed private sector investment we have at this point including Colombo is more than 2.2 billion dollars. Because of that we’re going ahead with a second request for proposals for Hambantota, so we are expecting more investment,” said Wickrama, who is the youngest chairman in the Sri Lanka Ports Authority’s 29-year history.
He said 11 investors have been selected, who will invest “more than 800 million dollars” in Hambantota, which is the home constituency of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.
Developments around the Hambantota port, which is named after Rajapakse, will create facilities to assemble, manufacture, process, packaging, stores, warehouses, bulk handling and liquid handling.
The Chinese funded 1.5-billion dollar deep-sea port in Hambantota, opened for international trade on Wednesday when it handled 1,000 cars from India destined for Algeria. It straddles a major east-west shipping lane used by 200 to 300 international vessels daily.
He said Hambantota will be a logistics and manufacturing centre, that is being developed into a free port similar to Singapore, with a lot of cargo generated within the port.
“If you look at Dubai and Singapore, from Dubai you can only reach India’s west coast and from Singapore you can only reach the east coast, but if you want to reach both coasts, this (Hambantota) is the ideal location,” he said.
Bunkering at Hambantota, he said, will start once port authorities secure an oil import license.
“We will convert it (Hambantota) into a service centre, so as well as bunkering it will provide water, crew change facilities, food and all other ship handling services as well as a large dockyard. It’s going to be a one stop shop.”
A mega development project has also been drawn-up around the Colombo port, where 500 acres will be developed from land reclaimed around the famed Galle Face green promenade.
“We’ll have a golf course and a formula one race track which will be completed by the end of 2014. We’ll have a lot of hotels, shopping malls and various other investment opportunities in that small piece of land,” said Wickrama, who once worked for the Sri Lanka Ports Authority as a mechanical engineer.
The current Colombo port expansions, which annually handles 4.5 million containers, is one of the largest public-private partnership deals in the country.
Colombo port has reached its capacity. Last year it handled some 4.4 million containers. To avoid congestion, the current capacity is being expanded until a new terminal is built.
“As a result, in 2010 we were the world’s largest container handling equipment buyer, and we managed to increase our capacity to 5.2 million, so now we have certain breathing space until we get the terminal.”
He said the breakwater costs for the interim terminal alone, cost the state-run ports operator some 420 million dollars.
A 400 metre berth is being built at the new terminal to handle bigger ships. He said next year, the port hopes to handle very large 18,000 – 20,000 TEU ship.
“In Colombo port we have a maximum depth of 15 metres, whereas these ships require a depth of at least 16 metres. At the new terminal we have a minimum depth of 18 metres so we can easily handle any of the world’s largest ships. That new terminal will be operational from April 2013.”
He said the Colombo port expansion is slightly ahead of schedule, and should be completed by end next year.
“That means that by the end of 2013 we’ll have an almost 1,000 metre long berth, which is something that you can’t find in this part of the world. Any container carrier in the world can be handled at our new port, which will have the latest modern technology. This will definitely bring a lot of revenue, investment and employment opportunities to Sri Lanka.”
Expanding Investor Mix
Wickrama said foreign investors should also look at Sri Lanka, for its close proximity to South Asia.
“We currently have a lot of investment opportunities here and we’ve got investors from India, Pakistan, Singapore, Australia and China, but only one investor from Europe,” he said urging Western businessmen to take a serious look at Sri Lanka.
Incidentally, regional power India rejected the offer to build the Hambantota port saying it was not commercially viable. But China took up the challenge, creating an unease in New Delhi.
While China has agreed to build the new Colombo port terminal, Chinese firms have pledged to invest around 50 billion dollars spread over the next 15-years, according to official figures.
China is also funding port facilities in Pakistan, a long-standing ally, and has plans for rail projects in Nepal, a traditionally India-aligned country where Beijing is increasingly influential.
Sri Lanka has often dismissed speculations that it wants to play one superpower (China) over another (India).
Wickrama says the island is open to nationality.
“Within the next ten years Sri Lanka will play a big role in the world, so now is the time to invest here.”