Navy escorts Hyperion Highway to international waters | Sunday Observer

Navy escorts Hyperion Highway to international waters

11 December, 2016
The ‘Hyperion Highway’ was escorted to international waters by the Navy.

Hours after Navy personnel were called in to quell angry protestors at the Hambantota Port, the Hyperion Highway, a Japanese-owned vehicle carrier with over 7,000 vehicles bound for the Middle East was safely escorted out of the port by the Navy to international waters. Owners of ‘K’ Line, which owns the vessel, who expressed dismay over the incident, have refused to allow two other vessels to dock at Hambantota this month.

“The ship was prevented from leaving the port for four days,

a loss of USD 400,000 which will weigh heavily on the principal of this vessel,” said Tressel G. de Silva, General Manager of ABC Shipping, the agent for ‘K’ Line which owns the ship. “The owners have lost confidence and vowed not to send two other vehicle carriers which were due to dock at Hambantota Port this month, instead it might be re-routed to Singapore,” he said.

The ‘Hyperion Highway’ became embroiled in a collective protest action by employees of the Hambantota Port following rumours that they may lose their jobs if the government forged ahead with an agreement with China Merchants Port Holdings Company Ltd to operate the port as a public-private partnership.

Minister of Ports and Shipping Arjuna Ranatunga yesterday in Parliament, denied reports that the employees would be sacked, adding that the rumours were baseless and that the government has not made a decision to terminate their services. He also visited Hambantota on Thursday to resolve tensions, however protestors continued to prevent the vessel from leaving.

They positioned forklifts so that it was impossible to untie the ropes and unmoor the ship. They also lowered gantry cranes.

Hyperion Highway berthed at Hambantota harbour on December 6 and completed operations the following day. The next port of call was Sohar Port in Oman where the ship was supposed to arrive today (11).

Meanwhile Navy Spokesperson Captain Akram Alvi said that it was act of piracy to hold the ship and its crew for ransom. “They’ve not just prevented the ship from leaving but put obstacles and blocked waterways which according to international laws, is an act of piracy and action can be taken against them.”

Captain Alvi explained that based on the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) the Navy is vested with the responsibility of ensuring that foreign vessels are able to dock and leave the ports. The Port Facility Security Officer who is answerable to the Navy Commander was in charge of the operation to free this vessel. “According to the directive provided by the Navy Commander, the jetty was cleared and the locality of the ship was secured by the Navy.”

Officials from ABC Shipping group told the Sunday Observer that the Navy assisted in escorting the vessel to international waters, an extent of 12 nautical miles from the base.

The workers who operate independently, demanded to be absorbed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) as part of the administrative arrangement with the Chinese fearing that their employment would be in jeopardy if Hambantota port was brought under Chinese management. Minister Ranatunga during a press briefing dismissed allegations that the government was going to lay off 582 workers who took part in the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa election campaign nor the 200 employees who were allegedly recruited by Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa.

He also called for a formal investigation into the amount of debt taken to construct the Hambanthota Port due to discrepancies in the figures. According to the government records a total debt of USD 1.347 billion was taken on Hambanthota while MP Rajapaksa claims a debt of USD 400 million.

“We’re losing a lot of money and the confidence of other principals, if this continues,” added Silva.

Development Strategy and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema making a statement in parliament this week said that the government had no alternative but to set up a joint venture with the Chinese. “Our objective is to make the Hambantota port an income generating enterprise retaining its ownership and leasing it on a 99-year lease agreement.”

Under the deal, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, China Merchants Port Holdings Co. would pay about $1.1 billion for its share of the port and adjoining land in Hambantota district.