Meeting the challenge: expansion of the Port of Colombo



Martin Mannion, Peter Neville-Jones & Martin Young, URS/Scott Wilson, Basingstoke, United Kingdom; & Susantha Abeysiriwardena, Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Colombo, Sri Lanka



In 2000, the existing Port of Colombo, Sri Lanka, was expected to reach full capacity within 10 to 20 years, due to high levels of growth. This limit was recognized by the Government of Sri Lanka through Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA). They therefore appointed URS/Scott Wilson to prepare market forecasts for the port facilities, review existing operations to improve efficiency wherever possible, and to recommend a forward implementation program for improvement of existing facilities as well as any port expansion required.

Market study

The market study concluded that

• Colombo enjoys a strategic position close to East/West trade routes; adjacent to the Indian Sub-Continent. This pivotal location is ideally suited to serve transshipment traffic.

• 75% of the total throughput is transshipment

• The economies of the region are set to rapidly expand.

• Domestic imports/exports would increase from 0.55 million TEU in 2002 to 2.3 million TEU in 2020, and 4.3 million TEU in 2030.

• Total throughput would rise from 1.8 million TEU in 2002 to 6.5 million TEU by 2020, and 19 million TEU by 2030

• The existing port will reach capacity by 2010 (without efficiency improvement)

• Expansion would be needed for transshipment traffic and to retain hub status

Port planning and optimization

Port planning and optimization studies recommended that development of a new outer harbor (the South Harbor Development), with nine new container berths suited to the largest container ships, would be the optimum solution. This would involve a protective breakwater and reclamation to enclose a nine-berth terminal, in three phases of three berths each. Separate optimization measures within the existing port facilities increased port capacity by some 50%, which indicated that port capacity would potentially be reached in 2015. These measures included modifications to quay lengths; crane heights/ reaches, yard layout and equipment, removal of non-essential operations to the hinterland, new inland road access for trucks to new inland container depots, advice on changes to port legislation, and so on.

It was agreed that the port expansion would ideally progress with Sri Lanka Port Authority as Landlord. An Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan (US$300 million) would partly fund harbor infrastructure works (approximate cost: US$400 million), with South Container Terminal first on a Build Own Transfer (BOT) basis 35-year concession from the effective date. This follows the public-private partnership initiative business model employed successfully for the South Asia Gateway Terminal at the Port of Colombo. The operator will pay for quay, yard, equipment and topside infrastructure, and payment would be by means of annual lease and TEU royalty, while SLPA revenue would cover the ADB loan and interest. The overall project cost was estimated as US$1.6 billion.

Design of the port expansion

In 2003, URS/Scott Wilson was appointed as Consultant to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to prepare designs for the development of the outer Colombo South Harbor, under joint funding from the Asian Development Bank and the Government of Sri Lanka. Detailed fieldwork (geotechnical, metocean, environmental) followed, as well as port planning, coastal numerical modeling (wave transformation; harbor disturbance/downtime, harbor resonance, hydrodynamic, sediment, ship motion, ship maneuvering, water quality) and other planning studies were conducted, with physical modeling for final optimization and verification. An extensive environmental impact assessment was carried out, considering appropriate environmental mitigation and management measures.

The overall Colombo South Harbor development project comprises over 6km of breakwater (main breakwater 5km; secondary breakwater 1km long, enclosing a small boat harbor), and dredging of a new two-way approach channel to -20m to enclose and protect a harbor basin area of 285ha. This is sufficient for the development of three full container terminals (total capacity 7.2 million TEU), each with a quay length of 1200m and a land area of 62ha, designed for vessels up to 400m length. Dredged material would be re-used for reclamation. This will bring the total to five container terminals in the Port of Colombo, with a capacity of some 14 million TEU per annum. The Colombo South Harbor project will more than double the size of the Port of Colombo.

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