The Sunday Leader

Port Fire Facts Misleading, Say Employees

By Nirmala Kannangara

All the misleading facts presented over the fire that ravaged the biggest warehouse in the Colombo Port – CFS No: 1 by Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) is to come to the limelight tomorrow as the Government Analyst report is scheduled to be released tomorrow, claimed ports authority employees.

Government Analyst W. D. G. S. Gunathilake confirmed to The Sunday Leader that his report over the SLPA fire would be released tomorrow but declined to furnish details.

“I cannot divulge the contents of the report to the media. Once it is released tomorrow you will know the cause of the fire,” said Gunathilake.

Ports Authority employees further said that once the report is released SLPA management and the government will not be able to find a place to hide their faces for giving false information to the general public.

Trade union allegations

According to the trade unionists, the fire was certainly a sabotage although the management did not want to reveal the truth. “First they said the fire was due to a natural cause and then within three days it was said that the fire erupted due to flammable cargo stored at the warehouse. SLPA would be now finding another reason to tell once the report is out. In case the report says that the fire was due to sabotage, the government will certainly try to cover it up because the Logistics Manager who was interdicted the day before the warehouse went ablaze will be a prime suspect,” they added.

The sources further queried why the SLPA is yet to initiate an investigation in to the financial fraud carried out by the Logistics Operation Manager P. Ranatunga who is a close associate of a powerful cabinet minister and charge him for all frauds he has committed in the past and take immediate action to dismiss him from service if found guilty.

“This was not the first time Ranatunga was interdicted for fraud, but on two previous occasions as well. Surprisingly he was reinstated and the only punishment given was withholding seven days salary. Earlier he was accused for stealing an expensive carpet and a large tent cloth. This time he cheated SLPA from over Rs. 80 million to Rs.120 million within one and a half months with two of his officers,” said the sources.

The sources further questioned why the SLPA management had failed to take any action against this Logistics Operations Manager on the missing documents of his personnel file which refers to several misdeeds he has committed over the years.

Surprise, surprise

Meanwhile Chairman Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya Ports Authority Branch, Udeni Kalutantri said he was not surprised the way Deputy Minister Ports and Highways, Rohitha Abeygunawardena proudly told the media that the total loss of the fire has been estimated as Rs.556 million.

“What a joke this is? The value of the warehouse structure alone is more than Rs. 50 million. It is said that cargo of nearly 500 importers was stored in this warehouse. Generally every importer imports goods worth of Rs.30-40 million. When calculating that the amount how could the Deputy Minister say that the loss was estimated at Rs.556 million. This shows his ignorance,” claimed Kalutantri.

He noted that the loss caused to the consignment would not be below Rs.7 billion.
Chandrasiri Mahagamage, Secretary, All Ceylon General Port Employees’ Union meanwhile said the fire was sabotage and raised questions whether the SLPA was directly behind the scene.

“There is a plan to widen the road to the Mega Port Project scheduled to be opened in 2014. The warehouse was an obstacle to plans for the road-widening because it was in the middle of the proposed plans. But the management knew that the port employees would never allow them to demolish the warehouse which was the biggest in the harbour, therefore, there are doubts that the fire was set deliberately,” alleged Mahagamage.

According to Mahagamage, the proposed road from Ingurukade Junction to the Mega Port consists of six tracks for easy vehicular traffic to transport containers to Peliyagoda and other suburb yards.

General cargo, the guilty party

Meanwhile, it is now said that the fire was caused by a chemical which the importer has declared as general cargo.

“The Chairman now claims that there was a consignment of 350 kg of chemicals – spirits and powders imported as general cargo that were stored in the warehouse. He has further said that when the insurance declaration claims were submitted, the importer has disclosed the exact contents of the cargo and that’s how they detected that there were chemicals in the warehouse that caused fire. The Chairman can relate such fairytales to kindergarten children but not to any sensible person. Knowing very well that he will be caught red-handed for misleading the SLPA, will the importer declare what the real contents were in the consignment? If so what action have they taken against this importer? Have the authorities taken action to impound the importers passport,” asked Mahagamage.

Meanwhile all attempts to contact SLPA Chairman, Dr Priyath Bandu Wickrema to get an interview failed. Although a text message was sent to Dr. Wickrema and a message was left with his Secretary Chandima seeking a phone interview, Dr Wickrema failed to return the call. Instead he forwarded a text message saying, “Government Analyst has not released the report yet. They are tying to identify the names of the chemical they took from the site”.

2 Comments for “Port Fire Facts Misleading, Say Employees”

  1. len

    What is this commotion about the fire at the Colombo port when the country is blessed with the Asias best and Rock solid port is already at Humbantota. .

  2. Reality

    For these Officials who hoodwinked the nation that hundreds of ships passing Hambantota will come in if we build a port, giving excuses for this fire will be a grade five excercise. The Hambantota port is idling without ships and revenue for one and a half years.

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