Sri Lanka fixes cranes at terminal linked to India deal after protests

ECONOMYNEXT – State-run Sri Lanka Ports Authority will fix three gantry cranes that had arrived from China at the East Container Terminal of Colombo Port, a top official said after some port workers staged dramatic protests to support the move.

SLPA Chairman Daya Ratanayake said the three gantry cranes were ordered during the period of the last administration to expand the Jaye Container Terminal complex, but the berths had not been built.

“Though they are not the right cranes to fix at Easter Container Terminal we decided to fix them there,” Daya Ratnayake, Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman said.

“That was the best option available.”

The ECT is a deep water terminal, which can accommodate the largest ships in the worl. The SLPA’s JCT and Unity terminals, can only berth smaller ships and shuttles.

The Chinese owned CICT terminal is currently the only terminal in the port that can accommodate the largest container carriers.

Dramatic Protests

After the three gantry cranes arrived at the port on June 20, port workers staged dramatic protests climbing on the structures and getting breaking news coverage on television.

They demanded that that the cranes be fixed at the half-built East Container Terminal.

“These gantrys were ordered by the previous government to put in a terminal called Jaya Container Terminal-5 (JCT-5), which is not yet built,” Ratnayake said.

“Simultaneously the tender for JCT-5 was called but the tender has not been awarded to a party yet. Therefore, in place of JCT-5 there is only sea water.”

“When the new government came, one of the major issues in the initially discussions was that there are three cranes coming in June but there is no place to fix them therefore the best option was to fix it in ECT which was being developed.”

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During the last administration international tenders were called for the East Container Terminal to be completed as a build operate transfer (BOT) project with the winning consortium having an India partner.

Top global operators responded, but the process was halted mid-way.

India, Japan Deal

Later the agreement was signed with Japan and India to operate it with the SLPA taking a loan.

Political analysts say the aim was to give a foothold to India in Colombo, which got most of its transshipment business from the country with China already having a terminal in Colombo.

On July 01, some port workers climbed on to the newly arrived cranes asking that the Eastern Container Terminal is not given to India and it be developed by Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

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Sri Lanka’s Shipping Minister Johnston Fernando had also objected to the ECT agreement with India and Japan and was planning to talk to parties through diplomatic channels, Information Minister Bandula Gunewardene said last week.

“The former government signed a memorandum of understanding with India and Japan,” Ratnayake explained.

“So quoting that the Indian party would have shown their concern to the minister asking ‘How could they do this because they have an understanding that these cranes cannot be fixed here ECT, we are going to operate it later”.

“So, we had to get that settled, which took time, and our people here were concerned about this. They have been betrayed by government after government as a result they rightfully objected.”

Industry analysts say with the East Container Terminal being delayed during the last administration, Colombo port can lose business with the Chinese built terminal rapidly reaching capacity.

However the Coronavirus crisis had put a damper on Indian foreign trade, which will also slow transshipment traffic to Colombo. (Colombo/July03/2020)