SLPA mulls upgraded contingency plan to offset Colombo Port staff shortages

Saturday, 14 November 2020 00:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • SLPA attempts to get retired personnel to fill key roles 
  • Promises overtime, lodging, food and welfare to all staff 
  • Fresh operation analysis this weekend to formulate better contingency plan  

By Charumini de Silva

In an attempt to return Colombo Port operations to normal, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) is in the midst of setting up an improved contingency plan and has offered all perks to draw retired crane operators to offset a spree of staff shortages caused by COVID-19.

Fresh measures were taken whilst exporters and importers claimed that over two dozen vessels had by-passed or were idling outside the Colombo Port.

Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena chaired a meeting yesterday along with top officials of the SLPA and trade union leaders to discuss a contingency plan to fully operate the Colombo Port, which had been impacted by several employees infected with COVID-19 or living in isolated areas. 

Abeygunawardena assured overtime, lodging, food and other welfare facilities for those reporting to work in this crucial time to ensure seamless operations at the Port of Colombo.

SLPA Chairman Major General (Retd.) Daya Ratnayake said they have particularly recalled experienced and retired gantry crane operators and transfer crane operators yesterday as the operations in the State-run Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) were most hampered with less manpower due to COVID-19.

Acknowledging the operational lapses in the functions of the Port, he also said that both exports and imports were hampered due by the reduction of staff.

Ratnayake said an analysis of the operations at the Colombo Port will be made during this weekend to come up with a better contingency plan to mitigate any future situations.

The private sector, however, claimed that inadequate measures to contain the COVID-19 impact and fill the gap of terminal operations specialists has hampered the operations of the Port. 

“Due to the congestion and uncertainty, the shipping lines have either limited or omitted Colombo at present,” industry sources claimed, but officials of terminals, however, noted the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted operations in all major ports in the world and Colombo wasn’t an exception. 

Noting that Colombo Port is considered the lifeline of the economy, industry sources stressed that a proper contingency plan was critical, given the situation. “As a key transshipment hub in South Asia, we cannot afford to have vessels bypass us and shipping lines take control over the situation. Exports are the only mechanism that generates the much-needed foreign exchange to keep the economy afloat, and when they also get missed or by passed, how are we really going to survive during this pandemic?” they argued.

They charged that interterminal trucking operations, warehouse operations, and yard flows are all congested, despite the statements by the authorities.

“The true picture is, port operations are all messed up.” 

The industry sources also said that the SLPA was only communicating with the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents (CASA) and Sri Lanka Logistics and Freight Forwarders Association (SLFFA).