Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena– Pic by Upul Abayasekara
By Sandesh Jayasinghe
The Government yesterday announced plans to develop and promote heritage city Galle’s Port into a fully-fledged tourist port and leisure hub of South Asia with an investment of $ 175-200 million.
The four-year project is headed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and will be developed as a Public Private Partnership (PPP). The project includes two offshore breakwaters to maintain the sufficient calmness in the Galle bay and harbour. To facilitate large cruise ships, it has been proposed to construct a state-of-the-art cruise terminal as well.
“The aim is to convert Galle into a regional commercial port with additional emphasis on tourism. With new private sector investments, leisure-based commercial activities will also be developed,” Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena said at the ‘Galle Port Development Symposium’ yesterday.
Highlighting the importance of the wider economy, he said the venture is going to generate thousands of direct and indirect employment opportunities for local communities.
The Minister also said that the port will be developed preserving the significant heritage, natural beauty and indigenous identity of the city.
“The project would make Galle like Colombo, from a standpoint of economic significance,” he said.
The SLPA will act as a facilitator for the project, allowing individual investors to circumvent bureaucratic red tape and the opportunity to discuss tax concessions. Shareholder equity for foreign investors can also be discussed with the SLPA. Expression of Interest (EOI) and Request for Proposal (RFP) processes with an open bidding process.
The Minister assured that local and foreign investors will be facilitated expeditiously.
In addition, the proposed plans include a host of new tourist features that will change the Galle port landscape.
The development project looks to attract a wide range of hotels and other leisure based activities within the city, using the picturesque and historically significant Galle port alongside a wide range of water based activities like scuba diving, reef exploration, sea-water sports among many others.
Government expects the project will help increase annual tourist arrivals up to seven million.
To establish sustainable growth, a blue economy strategy has been proposed to ensure the continued survival of marine life in the port area. For the initial stage of the project, which includes the building of the breakwaters and the land reclamation project, which is not expected to hinder any serious marine life which includes coral reefs.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be followed closely throughout the project and it will work alongside the SLPA to ensure the protection of valuable marine resources.
It was also revealed that a land reclamation project using dredging material will increase the Galle City land area by another 40 hectares.