By Ranjana Narayan
Dakhla (Morocco), March 30 (IANS) Even as China is firmly entrenched in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, the island nation has three other major ports — Colombo, Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai — where India could collaborate for development, a Sri Lankan Minister has said.
According to Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, his government is “looking at an Asian subcontinent investor” to partner with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to invest and take over the East Container Terminal (of Colombo port) in private-public partnership mode.
“India has shown interest in the East Terminal and Colombo port. Seventy-five per cent of the trans-shipment goes to India. India is looking at getting a stake in Colombo port. There are a couple of private companies that came and spoke, and we will look at them in a positive manner,” the former Sri Lankan cricket great told IANS in a chat on the sidelines of an international event here.
According to reports, the state-run Container Corporation of India (Concor) has formed a consortium with APM Terminals B.V., John Keells Holdings and Maersk Line to bid for the development of East Container Terminal in Colombo. The total project value is likely to be about $550-600 million.
The South Terminal of the Colombo port is already owned and operated by state-run China Merchant Holdings (International).
Colombo Port is the busiest in Sri Lanka and ranks among the top 35 ports in the world.
Ranatunga said that India is also “very keen” on Trincomalee Port, located in the east coast and touted as the fifth-largest natural harbour in the world.
He said a Singaporean company, Subarna Jurong, is doing a feasibility report on developing the Trincomalee port city, while the Asian Development Bank is covering the port development project.
“India has shown big interest in Trincomalee, as there are petroleum tanks there, and the Indian Oil Corporation has been there for many years,” said Ranatunga.
Lanka IOC, a unit of the Indian Oil Corporation, maintains several oil tanks at the Trincomalee tank farm.
Ranatunga said the feasibility report would be submitted in three months, and the government would take a call after that.
“We shall be calling for tenders. The government will decide,” he said, on the sidelines of the Crans Montana Forum on Africa and South-South Cooperation here where he also presented a paper.
Asked if China would bid for Trincomalee, he said: “I think China is very much settled in Hambantota. China Merchant Group has a container terminal in Colombo and they are quite comfortable with Hambantota.”
He said Sri Lanka is also looking to develop the Kankesanthurai port in the north. “It is quite close to India. It is not a container port, it will be more for transportation, for cement and people.”
China has spent $2 billion so far on Hambantota port, a new airport, and an industrial zone nearby, which is a key part of Beijing’s ambitious modern-day Silk Road across Asia.
The move to have India involved in developing the three ports follows the Maithripala Sirisena government’s attempt to balance ties between close neighbour India and China, after the pro-Beijing tilt of the previous regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
On the issue of reconciliation of the Tamil people post the civil war, Ranatunga said: “We have done pretty well on the issue of reconciliation after we took over the government. We are settling people in the North. We have discussed with the army, navy and air force, and if we feel that we don’t have to keep the lands, we are giving them back to the people.”
“And the people are quite comfortable and happy with this. We are giving back to them land to resettle them.”
Ranatunga also confirmed that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be visiting Colombo to attend the International Vesak Day festival, a major Buddhist celebration, in May. Ahead of that Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is to travel to India, he said.
“This is the 2,600th Vesak celebration; we are doing it in a grand way. Many heads of state and government are to attend.”
Ranatunga, who captained the Sri Lankan cricket team in the 1990s and led them to victory in the 1996 cricket World Cup, said he travels to India once in six months and continues to be involved in cricket matters.
(Ranjana Narayan was in Morocco on the invite of Crans Montana Forum on Africa and South-South Cooperation. She can be reached at [email protected])