India keen to drill for oil off Sri Lanka

Indian oil firms are keen to explore for oil and gas in Sri Lanka's offshore waters bordering India, Indian Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ram Naik said last week.

"Indian blocks are producing a lot of oil and gas," Naik said. "So we feel if Sri Lankan waters are surveyed properly Sri Lanka might also find oil and gas"

Naik said he had discussed the possibility of joint oil exploration in talks with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo.

India would like to be given some blocks for exploration, he said speaking at the launch of Lanka IOC, the local subsidiary of Indian Oil Corp.

IOC plans to invest up to $100 million to lease and refurbish the huge World War 2 vintage Trincomalee oil tank farm and set up a petroleum distribution network on the island.

Naik described the event as the opening of a "new energy bridge" between the two countries.

"After marketing the next goal in co-operation will be oil exploration and production."
Sri Lanka could use Indian expertise to drill for oil in her offshore waters where the geological structure is similar to India's Cauvery basin in which India is producing oil and gas and recently made huge discoveries of gas in deep waters, he said.

Minister of Power and Energy Karu Jayasuriya said the government will shortly invite foreign oil companies to drill for oil in offshore blocks once the new draft Petroleum Resources Act, that has just been presented to parliament, is passed.

Naik said the IOC deal in Sri Lanka would provide energy security to the island.

In the run-up to the Iraq war India offered to supply Sri Lanka's oil requirements in the event of any disruption in shipments.

The 99 storage tanks in China Bay, Trincomalee, when refurbished could store up to one million tonnes of petroleum products, which would be "an important asset for any country," Naik said.

It is more important than the chain of retail outlets that IOC plans to set up in Sri Lanka, Naik said.

IOC is also keen to get into the LPG and aviation fuel market in Sri Lanka.

The feasibility of the proposed pipeline to bring petroleum products across the Palk Strait from India to Sri Lanka would depend on whether the potential increase in consumption in the island would justify the cost of the project, Naik also said.

Jayasuriya said the opening of IOC's first retail outlet at Maligawatta marks the realisation of one of the government's policy objectives of reforming and liberalising the energy sector to offer consumers a better choice in price and quality of service.

LIOC will initially set up 100 retail outlets islandwide, 13 of which would be in Colombo.

The risky work of harbour pilots

Clambering up the side of a merchant vessel, clinging on to a small rope ladder, in rough seas outside Colombo harbour can be a risky business.

Harbour pilots in Colombo, like their counterparts elsewhere, risk life or limb on a regular basis as they guide the constant flow of merchant vessels that call at the port.

Their job is to provide safe navigation for vessels entering or leaving ports.

"The biggest problem is to board a ship in the open sea," said Captain Niresh Palihena, one of the 17 pilots working for the Sri Lanka Ports Authority in Colombo.
"Both the pilot boat and the ship are moving. It is extremely risky - if you slip you'll die."

Pilots usually board an incoming vessel about two or three miles outside the harbour entrance.

They handle about 25-30 ships a day. Usually, four pilots work on a 24-hour shift. Sleeping quarters in the Pilot Station, an unmistakable round building at the entrance to the port, allow them to rest in between piloting vessels.

Pilots who slip and fall while climbing aboard a vessel risk getting crushed between the boat and the vessel's hull.

"If you fall into the water the ship's propellor can suck you in - that's one of the fears we have," said Capt. Dasarath Dolapihilla. "When transferring from one moving vessel to another you need to watch the crest and trough. We have to rely a lot on what we hang on to - that's the ladder."

The pilot's ladder is a very special thing - it is governed by International Maritime Organisation standards and surveyed once a year.

"There are near escapes every day," said Capt. Ravi Jayaratne. He recalled two accidents - once a pilot fell when the ladder broke and fractured his leg. Another time the pilot - a good swimmer - fell into the water and managed to swim under the pilot launch and emerge from the other side.

The latest risk is from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Crews of ships coming from countries affected by SARS have been banned from going ashore. The only protection for pilots who board such vessels is to wear a mask.

Pilotage is compulsory in Colombo, Trincomalee and Galle although frequent callers do not need pilots.

Pilots need to have a Master's Certificate - they ought to have been a Master Mariner or Captain of merchant ships, said Capt. Nihal Keppetipola, Harbour Master of the SLPA.

He himself joined the pilot service in 1990 having previously sailed aboard various ships - tankers, general cargo vessels and bulk carriers. He became deputy Harbour Master in 1999 and, by a quirk of fate, was promoted Harbour Master later that year when his predecessor migrated.

The office has been in existence in Colombo since 1815 when the incumbent was known as the Master Attendant.

As Harbour Master, Keppetipola is in overall in charge of all the ports with senior deputy Harbour Masters in Colombo and in Trincomalee and Galle, the latter two being 'one-man shows' where there is no night pilotage.

"The moment a pilot boards a vessel he becomes the servant of the Master or ship's Captain and provides advice to the Master, which can be accepted or ignored," said Capt. Keppetipola.

Given the small size of Colombo port - built during the era of sailing ships - and the huge size of modern cargo ships, bringing a giant container vessel into the harbour can be a nerve-wracking affair.

Many of the accidents that have happened in Colombo occurred after engine failure.
A fully loaded container ship moving even at 10 knots takes a long time to stop. Even when the engines are switched off its forward momentum keeps the vessel moving - unless engines are reversed.

"If the engines don't work the only way to stop is to hit whatever is in front of you or else drop anchor which is not effective - it will slow you down at best," explained Captain Palihena. "The moment you don't have speed the ship has no steering. The ship also reacts to the wind."

Navigating in coastal waters is different from ocean navigation.

"You need to know the local currents, tides, weather patterns and winds," explained Capt. Dolapihilla. "Our job is a verbal job - to provide guidance."Pilots must monitor a ship's course and speed and, once in the port, work with tugs and mooring crew to help berth the vessel."The pilot is needed to co-ordinate the work and advise the Master," Dolapihilla said.Most pilots are over 40 years of age. The job provides an opportunity for seafarers who rise to the rank of Captain to work ashore after sailing the high seas for years while retaining their links with the ocean.

"After sailing for so many years it is one of the opportunities we get closest to sailing," said Dolapihilla.

Ship manoeuvring simulator at CINEC

The Colombo International Nautical and Engineering College, known as the "CINEC Maritime Campus" has acquired one of the latest versions of a Ship's Bridge Manoeuvring Simulator and an Engine Room Simulator.

The Maritime Campus, which has been relocated recently to the IT Park, Millennium Drive at Malabe, is now complete with lecture halls, workshops, laboratories and a Simulator Centre.

"The use of simulators in Maritime Education and Training has long been recognized as essential to enhance the competency of ship officers," said Capt. Aldric Pieterz.
"It is in this context that the CINEC Maritime Campus invested in its modern Simulator Centre encompassing the latest technological advancements in ships, bridges and engine rooms."

The Ship's Bridge Manoeuvring Simulator has two student stations and an independently manned Instructor Station.

The equipment meets with international regulations and conventions and is extensively used to enhance the competency of senior navigating officers in ship handling as well as watch keeping for junior navigating officers. It is also used for training port pilots and tug operators.

"The Simulator is also used for customer specified training, research and development of ports and harbours and can be used to conduct trial manoeuvres of vessels for performance evaluation," Pieterz said.

An Engine Room Simulator combined with the Engine Control Room, Electrical System and Auxiliary Machinery too is available for training.

The campus, managed by the Ceylinco Group of Companies, hopes to attract foreign students and already students from the Maldives and Poland have followed its courses.

The management is now targeting students from India, Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh to attend future courses.

Port users commend JCT

The hatch covers are off and containers are lifted from cargo bays and lowered onto prime movers even before ships are berthed at the Jaya Container Terminal these days, reflecting a marked improvement in productivity.

"We start unloading even before the harbour pilot gets off the vessel," a port spokesman told a Sunday Times reporter during a recent visit.

Up to four pier side cranes were used on the Maersk Georgia which was observed during the visit.

The unloading got underway while the vessel was still manoeuvring alongside JCT 3 and even before the mooring ropes had been secured.

The new efficiency was a result of the drive to improve productivity at the port and incentives paid to stevedoring crews for achieving specified box handling rates and vessel turnaround times.

Previously, box handling was markedly slower with the same reporter seeing gantry crane operators holding boxes until prime movers arrived underneath or the vehicles idling while the gantry cranes lifted the containers from the vessel hold.

Previous managements did not have the political backing to push through productivity improvements in the face of opposition by politically influential dockworkers' unions.

Port users have commended the recent achievements at the JCT and the Navigation division.

Jan Thorhauge, Managing Director of the Colombo office of Maersk Sealand, the world's largest container operator, said JCT has "demonstrated its ability to plan and get vessels in and out in a seamless process under tight time constraints."

He said in a recent letter to Sri Lanka Ports Authority chairman Parakrama Dissanayake that "the fact that you personally went twice to the quayside to monitor operations have not gone unnoticed and from our conversations with JCT operational staff it has served as a great inspiration". He also expressed satisfaction for the services rendered on the vessel MV 'Mumkebo Maersk' in which the JCT team achieved a vessel productivity of 114.48 moves per hour.

Another new service through Colombo

Cosco, Evergreen, Wan Hai and Hapag-Lloyd have launched a new shipping service called the SRX Service through the Port of Colombo.

The first vessel of the new service to call in Colombo was MV LT Power of Evergreen. This is a weekly caller that calls every Sunday.

Other vessels that had been deployed by the new service are MV QI Yun He (Cosco), MV Wan Hai 262 (Wan Hai), and MV Eagle Express of Hapag Lloyd.

The port rotation is Singapore/Port Kelang/Jeddah/Port Said/Hodaidah/ Tuticorin/Colombo/ Singapore.

Colombo bunker prices fall: LMS versus LMS

Bunker prices in Colombo have fallen after the entry of Lanka Maritime Services, which broke the monopoly held by Lanka Marine Services.

"We are pleased to note that Lanka Maritime Services has made a difference in the bunker market in Sri Lanka," said Mohamed Reza, managing director, Sri Lanka Shipping Co, its parent firm.

They sold twenty percent of the Marine Gas Oil stocks brought from BP in Singapore off the floating storage tanker LMS Ramboda in two days at less than $ 300 a metric tonne, he said.

Till then the price had been $340 and the disparity in prices of MGO between Singapore and Colombo about $100.

Colombo was selling MGO at $340 per tonne when the price of MGO in Singapore had been about $230 per tonne.

Lanka Maritime Services began selling bunkers on May 19 after it got a private bunker operator licence from the Power and Energy Ministry under the government policy of liberalizing bunkering.

Till then, bunkering was a monopoly of Lanka Marine Services, the former subsidiary of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation that was acquired by the John Keells conglomerate last year.

Industry officials said bunker prices had not fallen as much as expected despite the privatisation of Lanka Marine Services under the government's privatization and liberalisation programme.

The government is keen to promote competition in the bunker industry, enabling users of bunker products to buy cheaper bunker fuels and to exploit Colombo's strategic location almost astride the main East-West shipping route across the Indian Ocean.

The high cost of bunkering and shortage of supplies had been a constant complaint among lines using Colombo. Bunker prices in Colombo had been among the highest in the world before the state monopoly was privatized last year. Lanka Maritime Services operates the barge, LMS Ramboda, with a capacity of 1,000 tonnes.

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