COLOMBO (Reuters) - China Communications Construction Company has been given an $810 million contract to build the second phase of Sri Lanka's new port, the ports authority said on Monday. Hambantota, which opened in November, is set to be Sri Lanka's biggest port once completed and give the Indian Ocean country access to traffic on one of the world's biggest East-West shipping lanes, located a few kilometres off its southern coast.
The first phase of the port was built by the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), a China Communications Construction Company subsidiary, backed by a $425 million Chinese loan.
"China Harbour is doing the next phase of the project which is worth $810 million," Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman Priyath Wickrama told Reuters.
"We have started designing and most probably we will start physical work in the next couple of weeks."
Construction is expected to take three years, CHEC said on its website http://www.chec.bj.cn/.
China has loaned Sri Lanka the bulk of the money to build the $1.5 billion port, which has raised suspicion from India's government that its giant rival is trying to get a strategic foothold just off its southern tip.
On Friday, Sri Lanka said it plans to open a $130 million fuel bunkering terminal with a capacity of 82,000 metric tonnes at Hambantota in May.
Hambantota is one of four ports being built or upgraded under President Mahinda Rajapaksa's plan to rejuvenate Sri Lanka's $42 billion economy by returning it to its old and lucrative role as a trading hub.