Wednesday, 28 October 2020 07:33

SLPA commissions much-delayed ECT; timing intrigues shipping industry

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) yesterday commissioned the much-delayed East Container Terminal (ECT), which figured in geopolitics in the Indian Ocean among other controversies.

The MSC Emma, which belongs to the world’s second-largest shipping line in terms of container vessel capacity, was the first ship to be served at the ECT yesterday. As part of the expansion of South Asia’s hub port, the SLPA built the breakwater for ECT and subsequently it was to be developed as public private partnership. Multiple models were explored by successive governments in the recent past and ECT came up for competitive bidding as well.

A joint venture consortium involving companies from India and Japan were shortlisted, after it was communicated that a party with Indian ownership is preferred to manage a terminal in Colombo, as the most modern facility CICT is owned and operated by a majority China-owned corporation. China also manages the Hambantota port. The other reason for the India-Japan-Sri Lanka model was the fact that 75% of Colombo port’s transshipment business is to and from India.

However following the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime, ECT came under pressure to be locally developed, a move which was backed by politically-backed Port Trade Unions. SLPA ordered the required cranes as well, as the delay was costing billions of rupees apart from constraining capacity at the Colombo port.

Nevertheless, a re-visit to the India-Japan-Sri Lanka consortium model was on the cards or being pursued and this matter had come up for discussion at Monday’s Cabinet meeting as well. However, the commissioning of ECT yesterday took place amidst these developments and coincidentally few hours ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Colombo from India.

(FT)

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