“Our cargo volumes have steadily risen”: Interview with Bindu Ranasinghe, Senior Assistant General Manager-Commercial and Marketing, Hambantota International Port Group (Pvt) Ltd.

Interview with Bindu Ranasinghe, Senior Assistant General Manager-Commercial and Marketing, Hambantota International Port Group (Pvt) Ltd.

What are the different types of cargo handled at the Hambantota International Port?

The Hambantota International Port (HIP) is a multipurpose port providing a variety of services across several business sectors. The port handles dry bulk, breakbulk, liquid bulk [liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)], roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro), container and passenger and project cargoes.

The Hambantota Intern­ational Port Group (HIPG) has signed TSAs with several leading shi­p­ping lines transporting ro-ro cargo and, positi­o­ned the port as a recognised transshipment hub.

HIP offers shippers many advantages such as a deep-water port, a skilled labour force, the capability of handling deep draught vessels, a lo­cation that requires no deviation from the main shipping route and thereby enables a saving on bunkers, and competitive stevedoring rates.

What are the various services offered by HIP?

In addition to cargo operations and maritime services, HIP provides a wide range of client and industry-specific services such as bunkering, fu­el oil testing laboratory services, ship repairs, ship chandelling, underwater services, surveys, crew changes and the provision of sea marshals. It also offers services like stevedoring, navigational services such as pilotage, tug and mooring services, freshwater and shore power, bonded facilities, and warehousing. HIP can accommodate vessels of any size, from small- to medium-sized ships and large tankers.

Early this year, the port launched the wholesale supply of Marine Bunker fuels, together with strategic partner Sinopec Fuel Oil Lanka Limited. Located on the Indian Ocean rim where 50 per cent of the world’s maritime oil is traded, HIP has great potential to position itself as an energy hub.

The port’s bunkering operations conform to IMO 2020 regulations on reducing sulphur oxide emissions. The bunkering facility and tank farm at Hambantota consist of 14 tanks with a total storage capacity of 80,000 m3.

HIP has an industrial park demarcated for heavy and light industries and the food processing industry. It has already signed several agreements with global manufacturers for exports in the HIP industrial park, and offers supply chain facilities for raw materials and investor-friendly benefits. As a one-stop logistics platform, HIP offers an integrated services package that could be tailor-made to individual customer needs.

How does HIP plan to expand its infrastructure? Are there any modernisation/mechanisation and expansion plans under way?

Infrastructure development is happening within the port industrial zone and the wharf-side simultaneously. HIP has made a considerable investment in developing a bulk cargo warehousing project with facilities for fertiliser distribution locally and internationally. Early this year, we entered into a partnership agreement to provide bagging facilities for bulk cargo vessels calling at the port. Our next initiative is to develop covered warehousing facilities to store bagged cargo. The development of a container freight station is also in the pipeline. The port is planning on developing its existing container handling facilities by investing in ship-to-shore cranes with the required specifications to handle larger container carriers, supported by the required yard cranes and equipment. The port will also invest further in expanding the infrastructure for the development of the ro-ro business including the expansion of the ro-ro yard.

How has the outbreak of Covid-19 impacted the port’s operations/commitments? What steps were taken in response to the pandemic?

Since cargo handling, especially ro-ro cargo, is a labour-intensive operation, the pandemic had a fairly high impact overall. But HIP maintained an effective system where we operated in a bubble. We divided operations personnel into two groups, so that one team was available in case the other had an issue. Although this meant operating with increased manpower, which, in turn, increased our operational costs, the port was able to achieve and maintain high productivity levels and provide 24×7, 365 days operations to its customers. With international best practices and an excellent health and safety system in place, our cargo volumes have steadily risen, despite the challenging circumstances.

Notably, the port went through rigorous safety and environment audits and obtained the ISO 9001:2015 for quality; ISO 14001: 2015 for Environmental Protection and ISO 45001:2018 for Occupational Health and Safety during this period. As a socially conscious corporate, HIPG provided funding to establish a full-fledged PCR testing laboratory at the Hambantota District General Hospital.

How has the global container shortage im­pacted port operations? What steps is the group taking to ensure business continuity?

Since we do not handle regular container callers as yet, there was no significant impact on HIP.

Given India’s strategic location on the global maritime network, how is the group planning to increase cargo handling with Indian ports? What are its future plans and targets in this regard?

Sri Lanka has played the role of a gateway for Indian cargo over so many decades, with mutual benefit to both countries, and we feel it will continue to do so into the future. Due to the huge consumer market and location, a lot of original equipment manufacturing plants are stationed in India. Given that HIP is a deep-water port and its locational advantage, we play a hub role for Indian ro-ro cargo.