Oluvil Port Project Under Scrutiny
Doubts over govt.’s ambitious port development projects
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The government’s ambitious port development drive in the country may just as well be a waste of valuable funds, be it local or foreign funding, if not implemented according to proper feasibility and market studies. The Hambantota Port was inaugurated last week amidst much pomp and pageantry and among the other port projects that are to be completed this year is the Oluvil Port Project.
Initiated as a political endeavor in 2000 by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), shipping experts say the project would be a waste of 49 million Euros once completed end of the year, as it does not serve any purpose.
A senior official from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), who requested anonymity, said the Oluvil Port would be nothing short of a white elephant.
The official said the SLPA was faced with the difficulty of finding a purpose for the port.
He said the project had been initially implemented without carrying out a proper feasibility or market study.
“The port cannot serve much purpose without railroad connectivity between the port and inter-land,” the official explained.
After being mooted in 2000, the Oluvil Port Project was launched in 2008 claiming it would give an impetus to economic development in the Eastern region.
The SLPA and the Denmark contractors signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of Oluvil Port Project on March 13, 2008.
Stage one of the project is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (DANIDA) and will be completed at a cost of Euro 46,095,369.49.
According to shipping industry experts, although a commendable act, the government needs to be mindful when building or developing existing ports around the country.
The government needs to identify the specific purpose of each port, experts observed.
“We already have the Trincomalee Port and the Hambantota Port that will be completed shortly. Therefore, what purpose would the Oluvil Port serve in between these two ports?” an expert with over 25 years experience in the shipping industry queried.
Going by statistics revealed by the government itself, the port development projects are to create facilities for Sri Lanka to handle 30 million containers per year.
“The Colombo Port currently handles 3.5 million containers per year. The government plans to add another 7.5 million annual container capacity through the Colombo South Port Project and 20 million containers through the Hambantota Port. The government is looking at a total of 30 million containers per year,” he said.
The government has sated that the Oluvil Port would form the southeastern link in the developing chain of coastal harbors in the country and is expected to provide more convenient and cost effective access to and from the southeastern region for goods and cargo originating on the west coast.
In the case of Oluvil, the expert said it would be cheaper to transfer goods by road than by ship.
The proposed Oluvil Port Development Plan comprises of two stages – the construction of a commercial port and a basin for fishing crafts.
Two nibble mound breakwaters, the Northern Breakwater of length of 475m and the Southern Breakwater of 740m would enclose a total water area of around I6ha for the first stage.
Around 10 ha of the water area would be used for the commercial harbor activities and a balanced area would be used for fisheries activities. In stage 01, the basin of the commercial harbor would be dredged to 8m LWOST to cater for 5000 DWT vessels and facilities will also be constructed for fisher crafts, and also to supply water and fuel for them.
During the second stage of the project the basin wil be dredged up to 11 m LWOST to cater for 16000 DWT vessels and is expected to expand the water area up to 24ha.
According to the government, there is a plan for the Oluvil Port once completed.
SLPA Chairman, P.B. Wickrama said that although the port project was initiated as a political venture, the government has decided on a plan for the Oluvil Port.
He said the Oluvil Port would be used as a harbor for deep sea fishing vessels.
“Facilities for deep sea fishing vessels can only be found in Galle and Colombo. Once completed we plan to send the entire fleet to Oluvil,” he said.
When questioned about the second stage of the Oluvil Port Project which consists of the development of a fisheries harbor, Wickrama said the fisheries harbor would be a port for the fishing community in the area while the main Oluvil harbor would be used by the deep sea fishing vessels.
Explaining further, the SLPA Chairman observed that the contribution from the fisheries sector to the country’s overall economy was far less than other Asian nations. Therefore, the Oluvil Port is expected to help boost the fisheries sector in the country.
Wickrama said the country is currently engaged in a drive to develop local ports, which should have been done several years back.
“We are acting as a hub port. We have to look at the region. Singapore does not have the space to expand, Dubai is behind us. It is the Indian ports that are developing. We must also develop to keep abreast with the ports in the region,” Wickrama said.
However, the initial objective of the Oluvil Port Project was to develop a harbor with appropriate shore facilities to cater to general cargo vessels required to supply the current needs of the area, including costal passenger transport, with provision for expansion into a bigger harbor in the future.
The other objectives of the harbor were to cater to the requirements of the current and projected fishing activities and its shore based services and industries.
The port is to also help reduce the employment problem in the East by providing 10,000 employment opportunities by 2015 – a key reason for the Oluvil Port Project to be mooted for political gain.