Construction work on the long-delayed port is underway, with dredging of the new harbour basin and rock stockpiling for the breakwater currently being carried out. The Asian Development Bank has loaned the bulk of the funds for the infrastructure work, on condition that the first terminal be built and operated by the private sector.
An RFP inviting private sector investors to build the first container terminal in the new port will be made soon, according to Wickrema. He added that, despite the delays in issuing the RFP, there was still enough time, as work on building the new terminal must start by November 2009.
The RFP, which was issued last year and then cancelled amid controversy over the selection of bidders, was originally to have been issued by August or September. The top contenders were the world’s biggest container terminal operators, Port of Singapore Authority and Hong Kong’s Hutchison Port Holdings. The shipping industry has expressed fears that the repeated delays in building the new port to handle the newest and biggest ships could cause Colombo to lose business.
Wickrema said he disagreed with the idea that the SLPA should not be running any new terminals in the planned new port and rejected criticism that productivity was poor at the existing terminals because they were state-run and overstaffed.
“We have the skills to do designing and dredging,” he said. “We’re capable enough to build and operate one terminal.” He added that the SPLA had the option of tying up with a foreign party. Efficiency at the state-run container terminals was adequate, he claimed, although it was hampered by ageing machinery such as cranes, which are being replaced.
Productivity is currently 40 container moves per hour. Wickrema pointed out that the acquisition of new equipment should improve productivity at the Jaya Container Terminal, the main transhipment facility at Colombo port.