The concept of the project was first suggested by late DA Rajapaksa, father of President Rajapaksa. But it did not materialize. Later the idea came up time to time, raised in Parliament by many Mps.
It remained a suggestion but never saw the light of the day due to many reasons, Sri Lanka Port Authority Chairman Dr Priyath Bandu Wickrema says. In 2001, when the suggestion surfaced again, then Government hired a foreign company to conduct a feasibility study to assess the possibility of building a harbour.
The Company offered to do it free, but the end report said the location, Hambantota is not at suitable to build a harbour. This brought the whole project to a halt. When the matter again sprang up in 2004, it was thrown aside with much opposition.
However, then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was not impressed by the pessimistic attitude. He was determined to overcome the negative reaction and proceed with it.
So it began. Prime Minister Rajapaksa hired a company, the same company that offered its services free to conduct a feasibility study whether Hambantota has a possible harbour point. A copy of the report was sent to then Fisheries Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
According to the report the cost of the ‘kick off’ or first meeting after the signing of the contract will be close to US $2 million.
Even a “Sun Bathing Area” was to be built. When these points were mentioned the Minister seemed uninterested. He was quite astounded about spending US $ Two million on a kick off meeting, and the project got shelved Bandu Wickrama said.
Dr Wickrema along with a few trusted colleagues were positive about the possibility of building a small harbour. Plans were made, sketches were drawn. It is the very same design that is followed in building the current harbour, though in a much larger scale.
Tour to China
Dr. Wickrema finally took his proposal to the new President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006.China was chosen to fund the harbour project. Why not India? Some questioned, and the reason was simple as it was logical. When Sri Lanka made an open request for funding, China was the first to respond.
During the President’s tour to China, the Hambantota Harbour was one of the three main loan proposals to be requested by Sri Lanka. Despite this, it was discovered at the last moment that the harbour proposal was not even included in the documents.
However, the President made a bold step by initiating talks with China and finally he managed to secure their support for the project.
It was in 2007 that the contract was signed and the foundation stone was laid on October 30. A colossal effort was put behind the project. One of the main problems was moving out the residents. The harbour location being around 200 hectares of land it would displace quite a number of families.
But even with 450 families to be relocated, Dr Wickrema said it went smoother than expected even without a Court order. Chamal Rajapaksa was instrumental in this. He went to the people, discussed their problems and reassured their well-being. Impact
The harbour will bring many advantages to Sri Lanka boosting the country’s economy.
The Singapore Ambassador in Sri Lanka when touring the site said: “We’d better find ourselves another job”. Sri Lanka being at the very epicentre of trade routes will be able to accommodate even the largest of ships and cater to their needs.
Our neighbouring India will also find the harbour useful. In transporting goods from India’s west side to its east, sea transportation is much less expensive than transporting over land.
So inevitability Sri Lanka will come in handy. Many have raised the question whether the Hambantota harbour would replace the Colombo Harbour. The answer is no.While the Colombo Harbour is used by ships carrying containers, the Hambantota harbour will serve a different purpose.
It possesses the space that Colombo does not have to act as a service providing point. Crude oil, food stuffs, goods, vehicle parts and many more things can be stored in the Harbour itself, leaving endless potential and innumerable possibilities. Dr Wickrema said the method that will be used to fill the harbour is used for the first time in Sri Lanka.
He also said it would take 20 days to fill the harbour basin fully. The day that Sri Lanka will be lifted to a new level in development is not far. After a mere two and a half years of construction, the Harbour will be opened by November 2010.