Point of view: Oluvil Harbour: To continue or not | Sunday Observer

Point of view: Oluvil Harbour: To continue or not

Reading the news item a few days back on the decision to shut down the fisheries harbour at Oluvil, some facts and views on the Oluvil Harbour given below are noteworthy.

Oluvil Harbour appears a waste of public funds, local and foreign, not because of non-use or under- utilization but due to the serious issue of high recurrent maintenance cost required for the harbour to be operational arising from a very high volume of sand accumulation within, that needs removal.

The initial high cost for removal of sand accumulated within the harbour basin and at the entrance over the past several years is an issue to be kept in mind.

Funds are also required to stop erosion and resurrect the shoreline a few kilometers to the North of the harbour where buildings, coconut plants, paddy fields, boat landing beaches, fishing activities are threatened by sea erosion. Therefore, the question arises whether this harbour is sustainable without being a burden on the Treasury.


The idea of Oluvil harbour was initiated as a political endeavour when the late MHM Ashraff became the Minister of Shipping, Ports, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction under the Chandrika Government in 1994.

He wanted to build a port in Oluvil when Oluvil was not even marked in the Admiralty or navigational charts at that time.

The particular coastal stretch was not considered suitable for a harbour at first glance, but on the insistence of the Minister a basic conceptual plan for a harbour with two breakwaters was prepared to proceed with a detailed technical feasibility study.

The only available local coastal and port engineering consultancy firm was engaged by the Ministry for a one year study and required funds (about Rs. 22 M) had been provided from the Treasury in 1995.


This study had concluded the project to be technically feasible and the subsequent financial feasibility study had shown it to be financially not viable. Attempts by the Ministry to obtain foreign funds had failed due to the financially non-viable situation, but DANIDA Mixed Credit scheme had been available for financially non-viable but technically feasible projects.

The local technical feasibility study report had been reviewed by a Danish Consultant prior to agreeing for the loan in 2008. When the harbour was opened in 2013 about 46 Million Euros seem to have been spent.

The purpose of the Oluvil Harbour is questionable as the commercial harbour section is not complete and not functional. The fisheries harbour section has been in operation.

The question arises whether the fishermen in the area/ region want this harbour as they seem to be managing without it now.

There seems no demand for the commercial harbour either, when transport by road would be cheaper. In fact, initial surveys had shown the total cargo demand of the catchment region to be about 25,000 tons per year, not justifying a harbour.

Since its opening what has happened. Stoppage of littoral sand movement towards the North by the Southern breakwater has caused sand bank build up behind it up to its tip and overflowing into the harbour, thereby blocking the fisheries harbour entrance.

The harbour basin has become very shallow and not operational. The sand movement estimates derived from mathematical modelling and such methods during initial technical feasibility study seem to have been far below the real situation, as what is now observed may be many times the estimated value.

We have had experience with the Kirinda fisheries harbour built with Japanese grant assistance and totally filled up with sand around 1995. Extensive structural modifications were built after much study by the Japanese consultants and spending nearly five times the original harbour cost and rehabilitated successfully for greater usage now.


What are the options available at present to the government on the Oluvil Harbour? If it is left without any further attention, then the port would disappear with sand filling the whole premises but creating disaster in the coastal stretch to the North of the harbour stretching several kilometers, due to severe erosion resulting in the disappearance of an extensive area, and losing coconut trees, paddy fields, beaches available for boat landing, fishing etc.

On the other hand if corrective action is taken after proper studies, it would need much more than the original cost of the project, with the question of seeking funds. Critical activities are dredging of sand accumulated inside and behind the Southern breakwater and transporting the sand to the Northern beaches, referred to as sand bypassing. Nourishment/ filling of Northern beaches with sand from the South have to be a continuous annual process, as otherwise the Northern beaches will erode severely.

Looking at the sand filled harbour basin and the Southern breakwater, the sand quantity may be considered to be over 1 Million m3 and this build up has occurred for over three years after the opening of the harbour in 2013. Thus the littoral drift towards the North may be in the order of 300,000 m3 in a season.


When the northwards drift is blocked by the breakwater system, it becomes essential to transport this amount of sand from the South to the Northern beaches for artificial nourishment of the beaches by some means to stop erosion of the Northern beaches.

The coast protection structures built some time back to arrest erosion seem only transferring the erosion problem further North.

The cost of initial rehabilitation may be about US$ 10-15 Million and annual recurrent expenditure about US$ 2 -3 Million per year on a continuous basis, which is a guestimate. A proper detailed study by a competent consultant would be essential.

Even if the government is willing to abandon the harbour, it is not that simple as all protruding structures, such as, breakwaters have to be removed to reinstate original littoral sediment transport mechanism and the cost of such corrective action could be similar to the original cost of construction. So the decision by the government is very complex, but essential.

It is the duty of the funding agency DANIDA to get a study carried out by a competent consultant to recommend to the government a feasible solution that will not be a burden.

(The writer is a Chartered Engineer).

DANIDA responds....

The Sunday Observer contacted Annelise Boysen, Senior Adviser of DANIDA Business Finance through email to find out the latest on the Oluvil port as DANIDA provided financial support for the project initially.

Following is our correspondence with her.

Q: Isn’t it the duty of the funding agency DANIDA to get a study carried out by a competent consultant to recommend to the government a feasible solution that will not be a burden? What do you want the government to do now? Have you had any discussions with the government in recent times?

A: Based on a request from Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA), Danida Business Finance agreed to provide funding (grant) for a study on littoral drift at Oluvil Coastal Area. The study was carried out by Danish Hydraulic Institute and the results of the study were presented in April 2017. Danida Business Finance provided a soft loan for construction of Oluvil Port. The project was designed based on studies/measurements carried out by Lanka Hydraulic Institute. It is not the role of Danida Business Finance to advise the Government of Sri Lanka but we are in contact with Sri Lanka Port Authority.

Q: Even if the government wants to abandon it, then there are structures to be removed such as the breakwater etc. What is your observation?

A: I believe this is addressed in the recent study.

Q: Danida was to launch a monitoring project sometime in October/November last year? What happened with the project?

A: This is the study referred to above.

Q: What is your final decision on this project?

A: There is no decision from Danida’s side. Danida responded on a request from SLPA to finance a study and the study has been finalized. Danida Buisiness Finance does not anticipate further involvement in the project.