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Sunday August 14th, 2022

Sri Lanka archaeology dept won’t take action against Chinese dredging company

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s department of archaeology will not take action against a Chinese company that was controversially engaged in dredging an ancient irrigation tank in the island’s deep south, an official said.

Archaeology Department Director General Prof Anura Manatunga told EconomyNext Wednesday (June 30) afternoon that the department does not wish to harass anybody by dragging them to court.

The Chinese company had not sought the archaeology department’s permission as it was obligated to do prior to dredging the Tissa Wewa (tank) in Tissamaharama, leading the department to halt the work.

However, as the company has since obtained permission from the department, no action will be taken against it,  said Manatunga.

The archaeology chief said the department’s southern office in Galle received a formal request letter from the company on Monday (June 28), after which a team of officials visited the site on Wednesday. According to Prof Manatunga, any future course of action will be decided upon submission of the report.

“We are not going to take action without seeing the case. Simply, we cannot go to the courts. It’s also harassing people. We don’t want to harass anybody nor do we want to work against development projects,” he said.

“But what we want to see is, we want all the development projects working according to the law and rule of the country (sic),” he added.

The dredging of the tank raised much controversy in Sri Lanka over the past week, as news footage showed Chinese men clad in military camouflage outfits at the site. Government responses to media queries about the outfits have been vague at best.

Cabinet spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella dismissed concerns of possible Chinese military presence in Sri Lanka, claiming on Tuesday (29) that the outfits worn by the Chinese workers were similar to overalls worn by Sri Lankan workers at local automobile workshops.

Asked to comment on this, Prof Manatunga told EconomyNext:  “I don’t know who they are. It’s not my concern but whoever is doing this, they must first and foremost obtain our permission.”

“I still don’t know [what the company is], because I did not get the letterhead; the Galle office got it.

“The permission they asked for was to remove mud [or silt],” he added.

At the weekly cabinet press briefing on Tuesday, Minister Rambukwella further said that if the archaeology act has been violated, there are laws that Sri Lanka can resort to.

“We strongly reject that we were silent and cowardly about the incident,” he told reporters.

The minister said a joint investigation by the army and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had concluded that there was nothing untoward in the outfits worn by the Chinese workers and that they were simply a uniform worn by personnel attached to the dredging company.

“For example, there are people in security firms who wear uniforms similar to the military uniform and work. If the acts were violated blatantly then all parties involved will go to courts within the first 24 hours.

“As far as we know it was not the Chinese military. The CID report says those uniforms were overall kits. I have seen people working in garages wear such overalls,” he said.

Asked whether Sri Lankan civilians are allowed to wear cammo outfits, Rambukwella said: “If it is a registered security firm, there is a list [of regulations] on how the uniform should be. If there are any deviations from that list, approval has to be sought.” (Colombo/June30/2021)

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Sri Lanka jet fuel shortages costing SriLankan Airlines US$7mmn a month

ECONOMYNEXT – A shortage of jet fuel in the country due to forex shortages is costing the state-run SriLankan Airlines an extra 7 million US dollars a month, though the airline is operating most of its schedule, an official said.

“Now we are running 90 percent of our flights even though there is no fuel in the country which is costing us about 7 million US dollars per month in extra and lost revenue,” Richard Nuttall, the Chief Commercial Officer of SriLanka Airlines told Economy Next at the sidelines of a media brief.

“To carry the extra fuel, we can’t carry all the freight we like to into the country.”

SriLankan Airlines was stopping at third countries like India to load up on fuel for long haul destinations.

Carrying fuel for the return journey, a tactic known as tinkering, forces an airline to cut down freight

The hit from fuel came after the airline SriLankan reported a profit of 1.7 million US dollars in the March 2022 quarter for the first time since 2006, after cutting costs such as staff costs and overheads; renegotiating supplier contracts and increasing cargo revenue.

Nuttall said few months ago they were not sure of even operating 30-40 percent of the flights due to lack of sufficient jet fuel in the country.

The state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation could not import enough jet fuel due to forex shortages coming from a broken soft-peg. Sri Lanka is currently undergoing the worst currency crises in the history of the island’s intermediate regime central bank.

The Ministry of Energy has said it had appointed a third party to import jet fuel.

“Its not sustainable but we have maintained operations,” Nuttall said. “We understand we will be getting jet fuel very soon.”

The currency collapse had reduced the spending power of holiday makers in Sri Lanka while tourists were also put off by fuel shortages and popular protests.

“While the tourist numbers are not that great there’s demand from Sri Lanka diaspora, Indians,” Nuttall said.

He says being a small airline has allowed them to be nimble and shift capacity.

“If we are getting more demand from one destination, we will put more flights there.”

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Sri Lanka coconut auction prices continue to climb

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka’s average coconut prices grew 3.7 percent to 64,618.23 rupees for 1,000 nuts at the last auction held on Friday August 12, official data showed.

The highest price was 62,900 rupees for 1,000 nuts, while the lowest was 57,000 rupees at the auction conducted by Sri Lanka’s Coconut Development Authority.

Buyers offered 1,019,395 nuts at the auction and sold 576,906.

Exports of coconut-based products have risen by 12 percent in January to June to 434.48 million dollars from a year earlier, data show. (Colombo/Aug13/2022)

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Chinese tracking vessel cleared to dock at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port

Hambantota Port

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given the green light to Chinese tracking vessel Yuang Wang 5 to dock at the Chinese-built Hambantota Port from August 16 to 22.

Sri Lankan authorities had first given clearance to the Chinese vessel on July 12, to make a port call at the Hambantota Port from August 11 to 17​ for replenishment purposes.

However, following a diplomatic standoff after concern about the tracking vessel’s anticipated arrival were reportedly raised by the US and India, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry requested China to defer the port call until “further consultations”.

A report by Sri Lanka’s privately owned Times Online news website said Saturday August 13 morning that the foreign ministry has authorised the docking of the ship.


Sri Lanka permits entry to controversial Chinese tracking vessel Yuang Wang 5

The ministry’s official statement released Saturday evening confirmed that the ship has been given clearance to dock at the Hambantota Port for the new dates August 16 to 22.

“The Ministry wishes to reiterate Sri Lanka’s policy of cooperation and friendship with all countries. Security and cooperation in the neighbourhood is of utmost priority. It is Sri Lanka’s intention to safeguard the legitimate interests of all countries, in keeping with its international obligations. The Ministry is deeply appreciative of the support, solidarity and understanding of all countries, especially in the current juncture when the country is in the process of addressing severe economic challenges and engaging in multiple domestic processes to ensure the welfare of the Sri Lankan people,” the ministry said, without naming the stakeholder countries. (Colombo/Aug13/2022)

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