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Port of Colombo terminal operators say they are completely insulated from national crisis

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COLOMBO : Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), South Asia Gateway Terminals (SAGT), Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) and Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents (CASA) categorically said on Tuesday that negative news reports about the Port of Colombo are increasingly published in the regional countries, which are false and intended to mislead their customers.

Chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority Dr. Prasantha Jayamanna said,” In the last couple of months there has been lot of inaccurate, exaggerated reporting about the Port of Colombo continually circulating on web-based media platforms operating from regional countries that cater to the international maritime community. Apparently this is being done by vested interests that find it hard to match with the seamless connectivity and efficiency the Port of Colombo delivers to its customers. Obviously these parties are trying to take undue advantage from certain unfortunate events that took place in the country recently and undermine the versatility of the Port of Colombo as a transshipment hub in the region.

“Their intention is clear because when we request them to publish clarifications to put the record straight, they shirk that responsibility. The long standing relationship with our customers is time-tested and mutually beneficial. However, these particular articles in the foreign media need to be countered with true facts and figures or otherwise this covert operation could damage the reputation of the Port. I want to emphasize the fact that the Port is not impacted by what’s happening beyond the port. We have developed strategies and mechanisms to optimally operate the three terminals in the face of any possible disruptions stemming from fuel supplies or workforce turnout. Port of Colombo has a buffer stock of fuel and most effective shift patterns in place to ensure smooth operations,” he said.

CEO of South Asia Gateway Terminals Romesh David said,” We have seen a rise in negative publicity about the activities of the Port of Colombo in foreign media. They have picked out a couple of incidents that stemmed from the political and economic instability in the country and have attempted to negatively portray the operations at the Port of Colombo.”

“In April 2022, there were several issues in inter-terminal transfers resulting in delays due to Inter Terminal Trucking (ITT) not happening on time. Those delays were not due to fuel shortages. Fuel was issued to all three terminals for their ITT needs as we are primary customers of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Lanka IOC. On 9th and 10th of May, due to a lapse in communication, unfortunately work at the Port was hindered for over a day in spite of a clear understanding among all stakeholders that there was nothing to be gained from paralyzing the Port. At that point, even some supposedly responsible new organizations picked out those pieces of news and kept alluding them to issues at the Port. We are confident that the renewed consensus on the value of uninterrupted work which now prevails among all stakeholders will sustain smooth operations at the Port of Colombo.”

“85% of the volume that we handle in the Port is business that has nothing to do with Sri Lanka. It comes here on one ship and goes out on another. That is the primary function of the Port in addition to handling exports and now-restricted imports to the country. Since late 1990s, at every point in time, port operations have been completely insulated from the issues that the country at large undergoes. In 1999, SAGT came into being at the height of the war with a USD 250 million investment. Then in 2008, CICT came in during the global financial crisis with a USD 600 million investment. That was all because of the value the port of Colombo provides to the global shipping lines.”

“So the concern is this kind of negative publicity the Port gets in tandem with the problems the country faces could become ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’ if everybody keeps talking that there is a problem in the Port of Colombo when there is no such problem in the port . Our main customers could also get unnerved by it. Let me say on behalf of all three terminal operators and SLPA that we have sufficient fuel stocks and the Ceylon Electricity Board has given us their assurance to provide us with uninterrupted power generated by fossil fuel and coal. We are also looking at other contingency plans to mitigate any possible risks beyond the six-month horizon. If the need should arise, we as terminal operators are well-positioned to import our own requirement of oil to generate power. We are speaking as a unified team today because we want to send out a clear message to the international maritime community and the foreign media that the Port of Colombo continues to deliver high levels of reliability of service.”

Chairperson of Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents (CASA) Ms. Shehara de Silva said,” We are essentially the customers of the Port of Colombo and all ports in Sri Lanka .We have 132 members and we represent all the shipping lines that call at the Port of Colombo. All our principles are confident about the operations continuing in the Port of Colombo and we are thankful to the SLPA, CICT, SAGT and JCT for continuously handling all the operations effectively during this strenuous period.

“The negative press around the region is caused by a lot of ‘competing ports’. There are other ports that compete for the business of these shipping lines. Shipping lines prefer to use Colombo as a transshipment hub because there are so many facilities Colombo offers them. Even though there may be more advanced ports in the region, they still prefer to use Colombo. So we need to maintain that confidence of the shipping lines in the Port of Colombo and not leave any room for doubt that the crisis will affect operations. When you look at the volumes; exports are 4% more than last year and imports are less in line with government policy. And transshipment volumes are the same as last year. There have been some media reports that month of May witnessed a drop in volumes and in the number of vessels.

“But you have to understand and take that in context. There is seasonality in all areas. If you look at some of other ports that have suffered because of Covid, the condition in Port of Colombo is desirable. The information publicized by foreign media is completely unsubstantiated. As a customer, we give our testament that we are extremely happy with our working relationship with the Port of Colombo. Occasionally there may be operational issues which are not related to the crisis. We are in continuous dialogue with the three terminals to improve efficiency, digitalization and various other aspects. But those have nothing to do with the crisis of country.”

Last but not least, CEO of Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) Jack Huang, said,” Port of Colombo is an international maritime hub in this region and everybody has a responsibility to cherish the Port of Colombo and help it grow because it is vital not only for Sri Lanka but also very critical for this region as well.”

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