The Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port itself is meant to be symbolic of what President Rajapaksa wants his country to be: sleekly modern, confident, proud of itself, and not beholden to western powers, or in his words, a reflection of Sri Lanka’s “non-alignment and friendship with all,” states Nirupama Subramanian and R. K Radhakrishnan in an Op-Ed published by The Hindu on Hambantota’s development.
“For one, getting there does not take as long as it used to. On a flashy new four-lane expressway, the 96 km drive from the capital to Galle, takes exactly one hour, one-third of the time it used to previously.”
The Op-Ed also states, “Forget the road though. The government expects people to be flying to Hambantota soon. An international airport is rapidly coming up at nearby Mattala”.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the completed Phase 1 of the Magampura Port dazzled impressively under the blazing sun, the blue of the quay buildings tastefully merging into the colour of the sea.
“From April 2012, ships have been calling at the port. The berths are not equipped yet with cranes. At the moment they offer only roll-on, roll-off facilities, ideal for car shipments. Hyundai India is also using the port for trans-shipment, given that the charges are near zero.”
Both writers said work at the port continues apace. An Indian sugar firm and a Pakistani cement company, the local trading house Hayleys and a Singapore petrochemical company have been roped in to set up their factories close to the port. They enjoy an extended tax holiday, whose terms are said to be much better than in the export processing zones in India.
Work on Phase 2 is also ongoing, and expected to be completed by 2014. Phase 3 is still in the conceptual stages and could take as long as a decade more. The completed port is being designed as the largest port in South Asia, with a capacity for 33 vessels.
More than a container terminal, however, the port sees itself as offering bunkering and ship handling services on a scale unimaginable at Colombo port. A massive oil tank farm has come up at one end. Eventually, it is planned also as storage for aviation fuel to refuel planes that will land at the international airport.
When the port is completed, said Kasun Dasantha, the port’s project engineer, it would provide direct employment to 5,000 local people.
Engraved on the sculpture is President Rajapaksa’s mission statement: “…the blessed port bestowed upon the great nation after the glorious victory of the century, which has been constructed in line with the crusade of making Sri Lanka the miracle of South Asia.”
Aside from the names of engineers and others who worked on the port, the sculpture also carries prominently the names of 385 families displaced by the new port.
The Chinese are also noticeably involved in other projects in town. A Chinese firm is doing the Hambantota “hub” development road/project.