Harbour left to elements | Sunday Observer

Harbour left to elements

The sand dunes at the mouth of the harbour
The sand dunes at the mouth of the harbour

The Rs. 10 billion Oluvil Fisheries and Commercial Harbour which is the biggest economic asset in Eastern Province has been shut down by the previous government making it one of the biggest crimes against the people of Eastern province.

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the Danish construction company signed the Oluvil Port Project agreement to build the new harbour in Oluvil at a cost of Euro 46 million funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (DANIDA).

The harbour was constructed by the Danish construction company, MT HØJgaard and has two basins, one for commercial activities and one for the fishing industry.

The new Oluvil Port project was opened by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2008 as a part of the Nagenahira Navodaya development program.

The commercial port comprises 330 meters of quay with a water depth of eight meters, and the fishing port comprises 200 meters of quay with a water depth of three meters, according to the company.

The commercial harbour with shore facilities can cater for general cargo vessels that provide for the needs of the region, including coastal passenger transport, with provision for expansion in the future.

The fisheries harbour, consisting of ice plants, cold room facilities, storage facilities for fishing equipment, will service 500 boats at a time and could handle vessels with the capacity of 50,000 metric tons.

The opening of the harbour was a boost to economic infrastructure in the Eastern Province and provided over 20,000 direct and indirect employment opportunities, said Chairman of the Ministries sectaries’ Union, Keerthi Sri Weerasinghe who is a campaigner from the area to re-open the harbour.

He said that the former Shipping Minister after a visit to the Oluvil Harbor had said that it was a white elephant. “He was wrong.”

The Oluvil Fisheries and Commercial Harbour if re-activated can be one of the biggest assets not only to the Eastern Province, but to the entire nation. Despite Sri Lanka being an island rich with fisheries resources and having over 50 fishing harbours, the country imports fish at a cost of billions of rupees. “Even today, there are imported fish being sold in the Ampara town.”

“I have seen fish over 500 Kg in weight being transported in tractors from the Oluvil harbour clearly underlining fishing resources in the East.”

Hence, the reactivation of the harbour can help take the country towards self-sufficiency in fish.

Himself a former Chairman of the Fisheries Corporation, Weerasinghe said that one of the biggest assets of the Oluvil harbour is the fish processing plant which is worth Rs. 2 billion. Though it has been shut down for a time, the plant is still in a good working condition.

The fish caught in Eastern waters can be processed here and re-exported helping to earn foreign exchange. The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) concession too would help this and fishermen can earn in Euros.

He said the commercial harbour would attract not only fishing vessels, but also cargo ships opening up a ‘maritime supply business’ alien to the Eastern province.

An employee of the Oluvil Fisheries harbour said that they are so sad to see national assets just being left to sink due to lack of commitment by the Ports Authority and the government.

Due to natural causes in the sea, sand started to collect at the mouth of the harbour, and until early last year, they were systematically cleared.

However, later due to the lethargic and carefree attitude of the SLPA, the sand was allowed to collect, making a sand dune and completely shutting down the harbour.

This resulted in over 200 fishing vessels stuck in the harbour without being able to move back to the sea. Requests made to the Port Authority to remove the sand dune were to no avail.

The former Minister of Fisheries and top Port Authority officials also visited the harbour, but nothing came out from the visits.

The former Minister said that Oluvil Fisheries Harbor was a white elephant and simply went off without giving a solution to the issue of sand dunes.

It was sad and ironic to see the community hiring boats, lorries and tractors to take the fishing vessels from the Oluvil Fisheries Harbour back to the sea.

This alone would have cost over Rs. 100 million as it costs around Rs. 60, 000 for a boat to be taken off the fisheries harbour and back to the sea.

There was one fishing boat left when we visited the harbour, and the owner and the crew said they have to spend Rs. 60,000 to take it back to sea.

The operator of the Diesel Laugfs terminal said that they too would be shutting down their operations next month since they don’t have any business. “We sold over 3,000 liters of kerosene and diesel per day when the harbor was operational.”

Chandra Wickramaisnghe, the owner of Malu Malu Resort hotel said that the Oluvil harbour had great tourist potential as Yachts could anchor in it.

The fishing community said that a dredger can be taken to pump out the sand, just like it is done in the Colombo Port City. “This measure can get the port operational.”

“We would suggest to station a dredger to carry out dredging as and when needed at the port permanently, for which the fishing community is ready to pay a monthly installment.’’

Secondly, a breakwater may be needed, for which a technical study should be undertaken.

The harbour is not a white elephant, but a sleeping asset which can help strengthen Sri Lanka Rupee by exporting fish harvests. “We appeal to both the President and the Prime Minister to get this harbour activated.”

Meanwhile, some say that the ‘sand dunes’ were in a way a ‘blessing in disguise’ since it saved the harbour from the previous government’s common practice of selling out state assets.