Mahinda Rajapaksa Ruhunu Magampura Port
The prime minister of Sri Lanka said 11 April 2017 China's military will not be allowed to use the island nation's new harbor built with Chinese funding. Ranil Wickremesinghe was speaking about the Hambantota Port in southern Sri Lanka. China provided about 1.4 billion dollars in loans to build the port. A Chinese company was negotiating with the Sri Lankan government on the right to operate the port for 99 years. Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka won't allow any other country to use the port for military purposes. He said if the company violated any conditions, the country can take back control of the port. The prime minister said Sri Lanka was asking for help from friendly countries including Japan to further develop his nation's naval capabilities. He said it hopes to develop ties with Japan as both countries support freedom of navigation. The prime minister apparently wanted to end concerns about China's growing influence in the Indian Ocean by strengthening ties with Japan and neighboring nations.
The Hambantota Port was one of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pet projects, is named after him and is financed by loans courtesy the Chinese. Magampura port, a green field brand new port, with berths of -17m depth & 1,200m length, substantial backup yard and utility buildings including fourteen storied Administration Building has been constructed within 39 months.
China has been engaged in similar activities throughout the region; setting up powerful naval bases in areas of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. It has also begun constructing railroads in Nepal, a country which previously had no railway system at all. This strategy, the Indian government somewhat sarcastically calls the ‘string of pearls’; to indicate an emerging Chinese stranglehold. The term “string of pearls” was first used in the report “Energy Futures in Asia” commissioned by the US Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment from Booz-Allen-Hamilton.
In 2006, India used its influence with the government of the Maldives to veto a Chinese request for naval access rights just off India's south coast. New Delhi was unsuccessful in pressuring Sri Lanka to prevent Chinese engineers from improving the port at Hambantota, which Indian officials expect to become a port of call for the Chinese navy only miles from India’s coastline.
Involved in constructing and part financing the projects to the tune of Rs 60 billion, China is literally calling the shots in Hambantota. The multi billion rupee projects include a port, airport, cricket stadium and convention center. Costs for the four big projects total almost up to more than USD 500 million or Rs 60 billion. Construction is largely carried out by Chinese corporations which employ a Chinese workforce. Most of the funding for the projects is being generated from China; mainly from the China Export-Import Bank. The money lent from China is going back into the pockets of Chinese construction firms.
Hambantota is ideally situated at the intersection of major international sea trading routes. This apart, there are enough land resources around Hambantota to be used as hinterland for port related activities and this could attract many logistics-related services into the area to service the maritime sector. Initially, over two thousand hectares of land will be made available for logistics and free zone activities around Port of Hambantota which is well-connected with the newly-built Southern highway, the railway lines and the Mattala Airport.
Port of Hambantota is planned to develop as a Services and industrial port. Hambantota is one of the lowest per capita income regions in Sri Lanka. Thus, the construction of a Port in Hambantota will be an important catalyst for a major economic development in Sri Lanka and further it will reduce the prevailing higher unemployment percentage in the Hambantota region.
Total estimated construction cost of the Phase 1 of the project was US $ 361 million and out of which, 85% has been funded by the Ex-Im Bank of the People's Republic of China. The main construction work of the phase I was officially commenced on 15th January 2008 and the project duration is 39 months. The project was planned to be completed by 15 April 2011.
The first vessel was ceremonially berthed at Hambantota Port on 18 November 2011. A number of foreign and local entrepreneurs have already expressed interest to invest in the business opportunities at the port. In view of the deeper berths and location advantages at Hambantota, it may be possible to attract most of the port related industries. Since the maximum draft at Colombo is about 10m for general cargo vessels, manufactures may invest at Hambantota to get the advantage of “economies of scale.”
The Ruhunu Magampura sea port at Hambantota was ready for bunkering in October 2011. The US $76 million tank farm was completed and the contractor - Han Quin Engineering Construction Engineering Company of China - handed over the project end October. It had 80,000 cubic metres of storage capacity for marine oils for ships also aviation oil and Liquid Petroleum Gas.
Sri Lanka Ports Authority’s Chief Engineer Agil Hewageeganage said there was a total of fourteen tanks in the farm which accounted for the 80,000 cubic meters. Eight tanks will be used for storage of bunkering oils for ships which will have a total of 51,000 cubic metres. Three tanks will account for 23,000 cubic meters of aviation oils and the remaining three tanks which account for 6000 cubic meters will be for Liquid Petroleum Gas.
The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) made an attempt to counter the criticisms around the Port in a statement titled ‘Story behind the allegation on Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port’. There have been several allegations on Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port. Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port basin, having a depth of 17m is sufficient to cater most recently built ships targeted at the Port. The length, width and draft of the largest container ship operational in 2011 (Emma Maersk) are 397 m, 56 m and 15.5 m respectively.
Serious allegation was on the insufficiency of the habour depth despite the above and some articles even had reported that the minimum depth of a commercial harbour should be 35m, while the maximum depth of Colombo harbour at present is 15m and harbours having depth of 35m is not in existence. Therefore, there is no any ground on insufficiency of the depth.
The construction works of Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port commenced in January 2008 as a green field port in the vicinity of Karagam lewaya. Excavation/ Dredging work comprised of two major components, Basin excavation and Channel dredging. The Basin is approximately separated by the Channel from the A2 road around 235 km post. Both excavating the Basin in the Karagam lewaya and dredging works of Channel from the sea side, approximately 1km away from the Basin, commenced simultaneously.
From then onwards both activities moved ahead in parallel independent to each other. However, dredging work had to be stopped during the periods of monsoons. Dredging comprised both with Soft material as well as Hard material requiring blasting. By the ceremonial opening on 18th November 2011, excavation of Basin had been fully completed (up to -17m) together with most of the land side construction work, while an area of approximately 10,000 m2 (100 m by 100m area) in the Channel was left without dredging to the intended depth. The balance area of the channel had been dredged up to intended depth, -16m, at the time.
However, it was decided to ceremonially open the port on this date with a channel dredging progress of 96%, this being an auspicious day for such opening. Balance dredging work continued after the opening day and happened to stop in May 2011 due to monsoon. The balance amount of dredging is about 0.4% (50 m x 70 m) of the total Channel dredging volume and this work would be commenced after the monsoon at the end of September and would expected to be completed within 45 days. Therefore, the dredging remaining at present (including rock requiring blasting) is not an irremovable rock mass but continuation of the similar work performed during the construction.
Hambantota, the main city of Hambantota District is located near the 148th mile (238-km) post along the Colombo-Galle-Matara-Tissamaharama highway. Legend has it the archaic name of Hambantota appears to have been Sampanthurai. This word Sampan is said to have been derived from the Malay word meaning navigators, as the Malays, in the olden days were sea-farers who had come in their sailing vessels for barter trade. The word 'Thurai' means a port - a Tamil derivation. Another version, In the legends, ‘Hamban’ is popularly known as an ethnic group called ‘Malay’ or ‘Muslims’ and ‘thota’ means where those groups were landed. At the beginning of colonization, Hambantota city was governed by the Portuguese and Dutch respectively. Hambantota was the location that the Dutch established their eastern regiment.
During British rule, Hambantota became an important district. The colonial rulers had left their indelible marks on Hambantota. In the past, Hambantota was a sleepy old sea-side village reminiscent of those grand old days of Leonard Woolf, who was the Assistant Government Agent-Hambantota (1908-11). He was a literary scholar being the author of the fascinating novel – ‘The Village in the Jungle', that gives a vivid description of old Hambantota district which was plagued then with Malaria, poverty, and how British used the jungles of Hambantota as their famous hunting grounds.
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