A major infrastructure project currently in progress to expand Sri Lanka's main port of Colombo will make the island the biggest transshipment hub in the region, According to the Asian Development Bank.
The Sri Lankan government capitalizing on the island's strategic location to promote it as an economic hub in South Asia has launched the large-scale infrastructure project to make the Colombo Port accessible to a new generation of cargo vessels and increase the port's capacity to handle shipping operations.
Sri Lanka is strategically located on the main east-west shipping route, positioning Colombo as a favorable candidate for South Asia's transshipment hub.
As part of the expansion of the port, a new deeper breakwater has been built at the Colombo Port by reclaiming around 7 hectares of sea.
The new 5.14 km long breakwater, completed in April 2012, has a depth of 18 meters, compared to the depth of the old breakwater with 14 to 15 meters, to facilitate the docking of bigger cargo ships that require deeper docking berths.
Colombo Port was not in a position to handle large cargo ships that carry more than 8,000 containers, according to a shipping agent who used the port.
Dr. Priyath B. Wickrama, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, which runs the country's ports, says the new deep-water facilities are an important breakthrough for Colombo as most big shipping lines prefer to deliver cargo to a transshipment hub and to deliver from there to smaller ports in the region.
The new facility will reduce the freight rates making Sri Lanka a more competitive hub and help to attract more container traffic.
The Colombo Port Expansion Project (CPEP) was launched in 2006 to cater to the increasing demands of services in the international the shipping industry.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) jointly financed the US$ 500 million project with US$ 300 million from the ADB.
The container handling capacity before the launch of the project in 2006 was 3.3 million TEUs and once the project is completed by 2015, the Port will be able to handle 8.1 million TEUs. Sri Lanka expects to increase the container handling capacity to 10.5 million by 2024.
With the completion of two 400-meter-long terminals by July 2013 in the next stage the Port will be able to accommodate the latest generation of mega-container ships, which carry 18,000 or more containers, Dr. Wickrama says. A third 400-meter terminal is in the planning stage.
According to the SLPA Chairman, the four-year long project will eventually increase the port's capacity to 12.5 million TEU from a current 5 million TEU and the Port will soon be able to accommodate not only the new 18,000-container capacity ships, but even the next-generation 22,000-container capacity ships.