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Pic by Sassanda Liyanarachchi

The Colombo Harbour is to have a makeover with a new state-of-the-art passenger terminal after it failed to accommodate recent shiploads of tourists visiting the island.
The move to establish a new terminal comes in the wake of concerns raised by shipping experts over the lack of a suitable terminal and berth to handle large passenger vessels.
The development of the Colombo harbour is also considered doubly important due to the increasing popularity of luxury liners in the leisure industry worldwide.

Sri Lanka targetted 2.5 million tourists for the year 2016 which would be increased to 4.5 million by 2020.

However, with the increasing number of tourists, Sri Lanka is compelled to improve its infrastructure facilities in order to entertain and facilitate the large number of tourists expected.

Over the years, the number of passengers who opted for sea travel had dwindled due to the popularity of air travel, for obvious reasons.

Sri Lanka has been  pushed to revamp the tourism  industry owing to the changes in tastes of the tourists, to keep up with the expectations of tourists while sustaining Sri Lanka as a brand destination on the global tourism platform.

One of the recent observable facts in terms of tourist travel is the re-emergence of leisure sea travel. In recent times, luxury cruise liners have become a popular mode of transport due to its numerous facilities ranging from pools to casinos and forms of relaxation.

Last October 31, the world’s second largest passenger vessel MV Genting Dream docked in Colombo. The liner arrived in Colombo from Mumbai.

In order to ease the visa granting process for the tourists on board, officials of the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Sri Lanka had flown to Mumbai and boarded the ship to make arrangements to grant the necessary documents so that there was no hassle after they had disembarked.

Experts in the shipping sector pointed out that while this was a welcome move to encourage more tourists to visit Sri Lanka, the country’s ports were not equipped to handle such large ships.

They pointed out that it was important for Sri Lanka to develop the ports around the country if it was to develop the leisure industry.

According to the director of Sathsindu Group of Companies, Rohan Abeywickrama, the current passenger terminal is not suitable for modern ocean liners which carry a large number of passengers and crew.

Speaking to Weekend Nation, Abeywickrama said that the lack of several facilities in the harbour had placed passengers and the crew in some discomfort.

Accordingly, the harbour did not have facilities to provide water, dispose garbage, and refuel the vessel. “The terminal should be revamped in order to accommodate such large vessels,” he said.

Speaking further Abeywickrama said that the particular liner which docked at the Colombo port had 3,400 passengers and 2,000 crew members. “The existing passenger terminal could not handle the large number of people,” he said.

Accordingly, the current passenger terminal is over 40 years old and is approximately 200 metres in length. It is also not deep enough to accommodate the very large passenger vessels that call at the Colombo Harbour.

Managing Director, Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), HDAS  Premachandra admitted that the Colombo harbour lacked a berth which was dedicated to handle such a large vessel.
“We do have container berths which could facilitate any ship. However, these berths  do not    have the necessary facilities for the passenger disembarkation like in the passenger terminal,” he said. “Therefore, we need to have temporary arrangements to accommodate the immigration and customs officials.”

Meanwhile, the SLPA is also planning to upgrade an existing berth at the Bandaranaike quay and renovate the port commission building adjacent to that so that it would serve as the future passenger terminal. “It is actually a conventional cargo terminal,” said Premachandra.

“The plan is actually to construct a new head office for the SLPA and then shift activities  from the port commission building to a  modern passenger terminal and the berth behind the building would be used to accommodate large passenger ships,” he further said.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is currently in the process of studying the master-plan of the old port and designing the development. “We hope to get things underway next year. The team from the ADB  is currently here to do the preliminary studies,”

Premachandra said.

He said that improving the terminal facility would involve aspects such as deepening of the harbour and construction of a quay wall. “We need to find funds. Unless the private sector is willing to fund, we have to find our own funds to develop the berth,” Premachandra said.

He also said that they needed to look at whether other areas of the harbour also need to be strengthened before deepening the harbor. “We need to do this because some of the structures are very old,” he said.