Colombo port volumes dropped by 2.2% in January this year compared to the same period in 2011 with shipping experts saying it needs to improve its competitiveness and efficiency. "We have had a serious capacity problem, and this is currently being improved,” says Shippers Academy CEO and Ports and Airports Strategic Enterprise Management Agency Senior Consultant Rohan Masakorala, who also believes that increasing cost competitiveness and efficiency are key factors that need to be tackled. He pointed out that the labour issues of efficiency at the Colombo port needs to be tackled as most workers are found to be "lazy".
In this regard, while increased motivation to perform better is necessary, workers also need training programmes to equip themselves to face challenges of meeting upto expectations in comparison to other regional ports. The drop in volumes was experienced at a time when the volumes from Asia to Europe increased by 6% in the same month despite the recession in Europe that also caused freight rates to increase by 30%, officials said. However, SLPA Chairman Dr. Priyath Wickrama told the Business Times that volumes from Asia to Europe had dropped due to the extended winter in Europe.
He noted that there was no congestion at the Colombo port today with productivity having increased since the SLPA purchased new equipment worth US$101 million. The domestic volume had observed a growth of 11% in January while trans-shipment had dropped by 9% and South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) volumes also dropped by 7.2%. However, other officials at the SLPA, who declined to be named, note that Colombo port efficiency was the reason shipping lines were losing confidence in Colombo. While Mr. Masakorala opines the challenge is to boost the level of productivity to around 30 moves per hour to reach upto international standards, and other officials believe the port needs at least 27-28 moves per hour, authorities are currently working on increasing moves upto an average of only 25 moves per hour. The constraints on the Colombo port were mainly due to the lack of required training for its workforce who therefore displayed inefficiency.
SLPA officials said that with the new Maersk CMA joint venture the two new loops that would be introduced in March were likely to omit Colombo and instead have selected Singapore and the Port Kelang in Malaysia as their transshipment hub. Meanwhile, commenting on vessels bypassing Colombo, which the authorities believe is not happening today, Mr. Masakorala said this was mainly due to the water basin's inability to handle a number of ships. He noted that the continuous delay in the Colombo South Harbour has caused this as currently there are restrictions and limitation in the water basin area. It was pointed out that during the monsoon period most vessels would bypass Colombo; and also the feeder vessels would have to stay in the outer harbour if a mother vessel is operating which is given priority over others.