Sri Lanka: Aftereffects of the Protest at Magampura Port

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( December 12, 2016, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Following an incident where the Hambanota port ( the port named as Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port  by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he was in power ) workers forcibly held giant Japanese car carrier Hyperion Highway and its crew for five days, the vessel’s owner Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha popularly known as K Line has warned that the company may not use the port unless its security concerns can be addressed convincingly.

The vessel is the world’s third largest vehicle carrier.

Port workers launched a strike early last week in protest against the proposed agreement between the government and state owned China Merchants Port Holdings Company Ltd to operate the port as a public-private partnership.

Local agents ABC Shipping had been informed of K Line’s position before the Navy intervened on Saturday to clear the Hambantota port of the unruly strikers. Japanese operator is one of the largest international sea transporters.

A senior company official told the local media that they were worried about the possible cancellation of scheduled K Line visits on Dec 17 and 18.

K Line indicated that vehicles bound for Hambantota port could be offloaded in Singapore for onward transfer to Sri Lanka in another vessel. “We are making an effort to convince K Line not to suspend services to Hambantota.”

Responding to a query, the official said that a discussion was scheduled to take place on Monday (Dec 12) to decide on future course of action.

Striking workers have been accused of causing severe damage to the administrative building. The port remained crippled for want of government and striking workers’ union reaching an agreement on the transfer of port control to the Chinese.

Shipping sources told the local media that the fate of Hambantota port was in the balance due to continuing worker unrest. In case vehicle carriers pulled out of Hambantota port, it wouldn’t have any other major operation to undertake, sources said. Those who had been causing turmoil there have conveniently forgotten the previous government moved vehicle offloading operations to Hambantota from Colombo to give it an opportunity to generate revenue.

A senior navy official told the local media that additional strength had to be called from Galle in support of Hambantota navy detachment to regain control of the harbour. Elite Special Boat Squadron (SBS) personnel specialising in anti-ship-jacking operations were brought in to carry out the operation. “The restoration of power and clearing of various obstacles took hours,” the official said, adding that technical teams to operate gantry cranes and tug crews had also been brought in.

The official alleged that striking workers had placed obstacles in waters to prevent the vessel leaving. Heavily armed navy personnel landed on pier while several craft positioned close to the Japanese vessel.

During tense standoff at the harbour, SLN personnel fired in the air to clear those who opposed their intervention.

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne in civvies accompanied the troops deployed for the mission. In accordance with international law governing port security, Commander of the Navy functions as the Competent Authority of International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) code, a mechanism put in place by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

However, the Joint Opposition (JO) strongly condemned the deployment of the navy at the Hambantota port. JO members, both in Parliament and outside accused the navy of mercilessly attacking workers. Vice Admiral Wijegunaratne has been accused of pushing a media correspondent Roshan Gunasekara covering the naval intervention.

K Line and the vessel’s Bulgarian and Filipino crew have thanked the Navy for securing the vessel’s release without any damage or casualties. ABC shipping said that K Line appreciated the action taken in the wake of hostage situation.

Sources:  The Island, Colombo

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