29th October 2000
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Over 200 ships pass south of Sri Lanka daily, so why not a new harbour there asks R.L. Amerasinghe 

South to face new horizons?

A modern cost-efficient harbour as close as possible to the shipping lane would attract ships and also be beneficial to the manufacturing industry and transhipment of cargo.

Sri Lanka is attrac-tively and advanta-geously located at the mid-point of East and West shipping routes. The fact that over 200 ships and seafarers pass south of this country everyday proves that our country is strategically placed to offer a competitive harbour to this shipping traffic. A modern cost-efficient harbour as close as possible to the shipping lane would attract all ships that pass east of Sri Lanka. Such a harbour would also be beneficial to the manufacturing industry and transhipment of cargo.

In considering such a venture, the most important factor is its cost-effectiveness to the shipper and manufacturer. In the highly competitive world of trade, success and failure is determined by the ability to deliver goods at the lowest price. And shipping, manufacturing or any other trade that utilizes the harbour will only be attracted to it by this factor.

The competitiveness of the facility will be determined by its costs and therefore Sri Lanka as the producer would have to ensure the highest cost-efficiency. A primary consideration for shipping is reduction of operational time for harbour facility and for this it would be required to have minimum off course distance (detour) a minimum of time spent in port at the lowest cost. The manufacturer would require space and a well planned infrastructure for undelayed production and also require adequate space to house the workforce, all at minimal cost.

A modern harbour today has to cater to deep draught ships. The present requirements in this context is 20 metres. It is possible that in the future, ships of even greater draughts could be built. The Colombo harbour has a natural depth of only 10 metres and has difficulty in accommodating deep draught ships of 14 metres, where much money has to be spent on dredging the approach to, as well as inside the harbour. The planned extension to the harbour further into the ocean by making a breakwater will cost Rs. 30 billion. This would not be the end of the project as dredging to a predetermined depth will have to be continuous as silting of the depression made by dredging would continue to occur. Thus Colombo will find it extremely difficult to be competitive with harbours in Singapore or Aden. 

A further disadvantage in Colombo is that the existing infrastructure of the city is already stretched to the maximum and land is expensive. A restructuring of the city would be required if expansion is envisaged which would entail demolishing existing construction, which could be useful for a longer time.

A modern harbour down south may seem a better proposition as the 20-metre depth is closer to the shore and therefore the cost of construction and maintenance by dredging would be minimal. There is plenty of undeveloped or underdeveloped land to build up a larger well planned complex. Further this would be at a lower cost in land investment and would be unhindered by existing obstructions. Further the shipping lane would be closer to the south. These factors make the south a better proposition for a harbour for the future. Where exactly this harbour is to be located would have to be decided after an evaluation - the 6-kilometre stretch between Devinu-wara and Hambantota - would seem a likely spot.

It should be noted that the development of a cost-effective harbour cum manufacturing and trading complex would be a threat to some international interest whose fortunes are linked to other similar harbours. There could be attempts to sabotage the development of a cost-efficient harbour. The easiest sabotage is in promoting the harbour at a less suitable location where the cost-effectiveness would be lower making the harbour less competitive. 

The investment and the stakes being high, perhaps even exceeding the cost of the Mahaweli diversion, caution would have to be exercised in deciding the location. 

Hopefully the new parliament will look more closely at the harbour project which may be the next big step in our country's development. 

At present the Institute of Marine Engineers Sri Lanka Branch is addressing this issue. They are currently organizing a symposium on construction of a new harbour down South between Devinu-wara and Hambantota. 

The writer is a Chartered Engineer and Vice Chairman, Institute of Marine Engineers, Sri Lanka Branch. 

Proposal for Hambantota as a new harbour 

A twenty-metre depth has to be the target for draught restrictions if we are to be a competitive harbour in this region in the next 10 years. Ports at Salalah in Oman, Aden in Yemen and Singapore, provide more advanced facilities than those available in Sri Lanka. 

*This twenty-metre depth is available within 700 metres of the shore off Hambantota so there will be no dredging involved after it is made as this depth continues along our eastern coast.

*Ships of size 10,000TEU (Suezmax) and 15,000TEU (Malaccamax) are being planned already, no doubt having a 20-metre draught. 

If we now plan the future of our ports being so well positioned geographically, the investment will not go waste. 

*The proposed extension of the Colombo harbour further into the sea costing some Rs. 30 billion seems a waste when this sum can be utilized in Hambantota where there is all the space available. Many opportunities can also be created for the people there. 

*This cost is only for the breakwater not for the dredging, which will probably cost the same amount depending on what depth is planned. 

There is also the danger of sea erosion taking place in the southern part of our country destroying our beach resorts if one attempts to build further into the sea at Colombo. 

*Hambantota has no monsoon effects, no problem of environmental disturbances, no ill-effects of development. 

Colombo has all these problems and it is bursting at its seams, not to mention the security restriction imposed within the city. 

*Our target has to be to handle container ships of around 400m with a draught capability of 20 metres with Cranage capable of reaching 30 containers across or nearest. 

The proposed pier should be parallel to the 20-metre shelf with the length of the pier around 1000 metres. 

An area of water between the pier should be built up on the 20-metre shelf and perhaps have the berthing facility perpendicular to the 20m draught pier. 

The area filled up will give plenty of room for transhipment cargo. This can be done similar to the JCT, which is semi-floating, after piling was carried. 

*The planned extension of the Colombo harbour into the sea will be more than the money ever spent on the port development so far. 

Wouldn't it be worth considering this sum and trying to obtain foreign collaboration for this venture. 

*Today the bunker Ports in the region are Aden and Singapore when ships ply between East and West and vice versa. 

There is no reason why this facility cannot be made available in Sri Lanka like it used to be some 50 years ago. Ships then could carry more cargo and less oil. 

Luckily for us Sri Lanka is geographically ideally situated between East and West. 

All ships have to come within 100 miles of Hambantota every time this passage is made. 

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