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Sri Lanka's Chinese-Run Ro/Ro Port is Taking Off

Port of Hambantota
Port of Hambantota (CMPorts file image)

Published Jan 7, 2024 10:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Chinese-controlled Hambantota International Port (HIP) in Sri Lanka has recorded a 26 percent increase in ro/ro units handled last year, hitting the 700,000 mark. The significant growth means that the port, which is the country’s second largest port after Colombo and which is under the control of China on a 99-year lease, is now the fastest growing in ro-ro traffic in the region.

Hambantota said that the 700,000 milestone was achieved with the vehicle carrier MV Hae Shin handling 3,626 units for transshipment to Ulsan, South Korea.  

The port of Hambantota is a joint venture led by China Merchants Port (CMPort), which holds a controversial lease of 99 years to operate the site. The push to make it the fastest growing ro-ro transshipment facility in the region has been deliberate.

Though the port has only been in operation for six years, some of the strategies it has deployed to attract business include entering into agreements with ro-ro lines giving them the assurance of expert handling. The port has also been proactive in attracting new customers, particularly Japanese lines that are more focused only on handling domestic import cargo.

Significant investments have also been committed in expanding yard space and installing modern equipment, according to the port's operators. The port is also positioning itself as an alternative option for liners seeking to avoid the disruptions occurring in the Red Sea.

“The port is geared and ready to handle volumes that are getting larger each year, not only because it is expanding capacity and location, but also because of our quality service, and timely berthing facilities with no waiting time for customers with tight schedules. The reliability of our services, coupled with connectivity to important destinations, and competitive pricing formulas, makes HIP an extremely attractive proposition,” said Lance Zuo, General Manager Commercial & Marketing.

CMPort took control of the facility in 2017 in a deal that has highly been criticized as the example of Chinese "debt-trap diplomacy." CMPort committed to invest $1.1 billion in the port to transform it to a world class facility.