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China-India Tussle for Eastern Container Terminal but Lanka shuts the door for both the countries

Colombo Portís Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) development project has been stalled since 2016 due to inconsistent policy decisions taken by the government from time to time amidst intervention of the President in awarding the contract to a suitable bidder among multiple consortiums who have made expressions of interest (EOI).

The Asian Development Bank is expected to submit a report to the Sri Lankan Government outlining modalities of transforming the ECT to a Transshipment and bunkering hub in the region soon, it has been officially stated according to Sri Lankan Media reports.

Multiple consortiums representing India- Japan and China-Qatar -Iran along with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority have already expressed interest to develop the ECT as the deepest Container Terminal at the Port of Colombo helping to berth massive ships, container carriers and oil tankers, official sources said.

The state-run Container Corporation of India (Concor) has formed a consortium with APM Terminals BV, John Keells Holdings and Maersk Line to bid for the ECT development in Colombo in 2017. The total project value will be around $550-600 million. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had been signed on the ECT with this Indian ĖJapanese and Sri Lankan consortium to develop the ECT in the same year.

This was the result of an assurance given by the Government especially Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that the East Terminal will have an Indian investor/party so as to balance off any regional concerns over Chinese presence in Hambantota Port. But the proposal was vetoed by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena and hence Sri Lanka had to backtrack.

President Sirisena told the gathering at Sri Lanka Ports Authorityís 38th anniversary ceremony recently that Colombo Portís East Terminal will not be privatized or developed via Public Private Partnership. It will remain with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority despite an on-going exercise for non-state involvement.

He assured that the East Terminal will not be handed over to any other party and insisted that it should be vested in the Ports Authority.

Heeding the Presidentís protest at that time, the Sri Lankan  Government has convinced  India to abandon the project as it needs to maintain the ECT under the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), a senior official who was involved in the project negotiations said.

This deal to replace the India-Japan consortium and bring a Chinese company with links to Qatar and Iran had been worked out to take over ECT with a 1200m long quay wall, 18m deep berthing three mega ships at a time.

A Cabinet paper t was presented during the period when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesingh was ousted last year  and the country was run by President Srisena to hand over the ECT modernization project to Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company (ZPMC

In the latest move of the Government, the new board of directors of Sri Lanka Ports Authority has been entrusted with the task of devising the strategic plan for ECT,  the countryísPorts and Shipping Minister Sagala Ratnayake told media recently.

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