Colombo [Sri Lanka], April 20 (ANI): The Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka in which China has a 70 percent stake, is being seen by shipping analysts and other experts as a virtual white elephant because most ships passing through the Indian Ocean don't stop to unload their cargo.
According to report published this week by Bloomberg News, the port, which is eight years old, has almost no container traffic, which to experts is surprising, given that close to 60, 000 ships sail by it every year.
Though the governments of China and Sri Lanka are very mindful of assuaging global fears about the former's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) being ultimately used for political or military leverage, governments and global business entities seeing the Sri Lanka experience of handing over the port to Beijing last year on a 99-year lease because it was unable to repay its debts, are reportedly worried about China achieving similar terms of engagement and gaining control over strategic infrastructure in other parts of the world.
Bloomberg News quoted Hambantota Port Chief Operating Officer (COO) Tissa Wickramasinghe, as saying that he and other port officials are determined to make the port a profit-making venture, and is not really concerned with reasons as to why the port was built and whether it should have been built.
According to Bloomberg News, Hambantota is only handling about one ship a day, and when compared to competitors in Singapore, Malaysia and the Middle East, it isn't at present a viable operation in terms of volume generation.
Major shipping lines such as Maersk also don't see the logic of moving operations south, when they can offload cargo easily and directly at Colombo Port.
Maersk says that moving down south would depend on factors like connectivity within the mainline network, extent of domestic cargo, cost and productivity etc.
Bloomberg News quotes Singapore-based shipping analyst Rahul Kapoor as saying that billions of dollars worth of investment will be required to "generate meaningful traffic" at Hambantota.
He is of the view that China is pushing for global maritime dominance through projects it hopes to make commercially viable.
Hambantota COO Wickramasinghe is quoted as saying that "he plans to lure vehicle trans-shipments, refueling and oil storage services away from Singapore, the U.A.E. Port of Fujairah and Malaysia's Port Klang...Plans are also afoot to build a logistics and industrial zone next to the port.
Meanwhile, China has dismissed speculation that the BRI has a military dimension. Its foreign ministry said that there is no reason to think along these lines.
Sri Lanka's Minister of State for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene was quoted, as saying that the Chinese have been clearly told that Hambantota cannot be converted into a military port. (ANI)