* Sri Lanka Ports, Trade & Logistics conference:
Global maritime experts say, ‘Sri Lanka at the heart of World trade’, ‘We see a country showing real confidence in its future’
With Hambantota tipped to attract global private investments amounting to US$ 50 billion (yes, an unbelievable fifty billion US dollars, but the government believes it will happen) for a port city development project, the government is confident investors would pump in US$ 15 billion to develop a small, modern port city on reclaimed land in Colombo.
The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) is planning to spend US$ 900 million on basic infrastructure on 243 acres of land reclaimed from the sea opposite the Galle Face in Colombo, while investments would be sought from the private sector for a US$ 15 billion mega port-city development project at the site which would comprise a Formula One urban race track, golf course, yacht marina, a five star hotel, a canal for water sports and boating, shopping complex and mall and a central boulevard, a top official said.
Reclamation work will commence this October and will be completed with roads, drainage and telecommunication infrastructure in place in 39 months, SLPA Chairman Dr. Priyath Bandu Wickrama said.
"We intend to attract investments from the private sector to develop this small modern port city. This entire project is estimated at US$ 15 billion and we are not going to spend a cent. We have already received a few commitments from investors," he said, addressing the inaugural session of the Sri Lanka Port, Trade and Logistics conference and exhibition which commenced yesterday. The two day confab is hosted by the SLPA and organised by UK based Seatrade Communications Ltd.
He said commitments received amounted to US$ 3 billion.
China Harbhour Engineering Corporation will carry out the reclamation work and is expected to invest US$ 2.5 billion into developing a parcel of land that it would receive. The balance will be sold on 99-year leases to potential investors. Request for proposals would be called next year.
Dr. Wickrama said the SLPA had invested US$ 3 billion on port related infrastructure development activities with another US$ 5 billion being sought from the private sector.
"We hope to attract US$ 5 billion from private investors by 2015 and we believe we can achieve this before then," he said.
He said the SLPA has called for proposals under the second phase of the Hambantota Port development project, intending to raise US$ 1 billion.
Earlier this year the government announced that a group of private investors led by Beijing based Sino-Sri Lanka Rich Investment was planning to invest US$ 50 billion over ten years on the Hambantota Trade City Project. The funds would come from Hong Kong, Singapore and the US.
Officials and top executives in the maritime industry opened the first session of the Sri Lanka Ports, Trade & Logistics conference in Colombo yesterday with some compelling visions and facts concerning the country's future commercial potential.
Chris Hayman, chairman of Seatrade, welcomed the distinguished speakers and invited them to deliver their plans, thoughts and assessments of Sri Lanka’s maritime future. He remarked "These are challenging times for the world’s major economies and the shipping markets, but here in Sri Lanka we see a country and an economy that shows real confidence in its future."
Kumara Welgama, Minister of Transport, made the welcome address. He said that following decades of terrorism, the new regime has laid the foundation for the rapid economic development of the country within a global framework. The minister added "Development of the seaports and airports is extremely important to achieve the vision of developing Sri Lanka as the maritime, aviation, commercial, energy and knowledge hub in South Asia. In view of the strategic location of our country and with the prudent leadership of His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, steps have been taken to develop the main ports of Sri Lanka, to facilitate increasing export and import trade associated with rapid economic development."
Noboru Ueda, Chairman & President, Class NK, Japan, gave an outside view and assessment from the world’s largest classification society of Sri Lanka’s unique position, talking about the importance of emerging hubs in the Indian Ocean.
After more than 40 years in the maritime sector, Ueda said he had witnessed many changes in the industry, citing the great shift from West to East of shipping and shipbuilding and the huge rise in Asian shipbuilding and more recently ship owning.
Ueda continued, "The next great shift in our industry is already taking place. The rise of the Southeast Asian, South Asian and Middle Eastern players and their growing importance in the world maritime industry. It is this shift from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans driven eras of the past and present, to a new Indian ocean driven era that we are fast approaching"
He went on to say that at the heart of this new maritime region, and at the heart of world trade, is Sri Lanka, he believes that Sri Lanka could easily emerge as the new great maritime nation – joining the ranks with Singapore and the UAE as a leader in the maritime world.
Speaking on the roles and responsibilities of the state, the private sector and lending agencies in the development of the regional maritime centre – a leading Sri Lanka state agency perspective, Dr. Willie Gamage – Chairman of the strategic Enterprise Management Agency said that it was important to appreciate the pivotal role played by state Owned Enterprises not just in Sri Lanka, but in many economies around the world, in acting as a catalyst for generating export and import business for the shipping and ports sector.
"It is therefore, a priority area for the state to keep investing in the ports sector, whilst at the same time, governments have also realized the importance of inviting the private sector to participate to ensure efficiency of port operations," he added.