Shehara creates history as Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents’ first woman chairperson 

Monday, 23 August 2021 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


CASA New Chairperson Shehara De Silva 
Outgoing Chairman Iqram Cuttilan 

CASA conducts 55th AGM virtually

CASA, the voice of the shipping industry, held its Annual General Meeting on 17 August virtually with the attendance of over 100 members and stakeholders. 

McLarens Shipping Ltd. Group Managing Director Shehara De Silva was elected as Chairperson, creating history as the first woman chairperson of CASA. Hayleys Advantis Ltd. Group Director M.I.S. Sabar was elected as Vice Chairman and Asha Shipping Ltd. Executive Vice President Janesh Ratnadasa was elected as the Treasurer.

The following speech was made by the CASA Chairperson after assuming duties.

Minister of Ports and Shipping Rohitha Abeygunawardana, State Minister of Warehouse Facilities, Container Yards, Port Supply Facilities, and Boats and Shipping Industry Development Jayantha Samaraweera, and Secretaries to the above Ministries U.D.C. Jayalal and Dhammika Mataraarachchi, Merchant Shipping Director General Ajith Seneviratne, Customs Director General Maj. Gen Ravipriya, Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman Captain Nihal Keppetipola, distinguished invitees from Government authorities and industry associations, Members of the CASA Advisory Council, Past Chairmen of CASA, Executive Committee members, and fellow CASA members, it is with great honour that I address you all as the newly elected Chairperson of the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents. I thank you all for the confidence placed in me to lead this prestigious association. With a rich history dating back to 1944, CASA has been the bedrock institution, which has played a pivotal role in the shipping industry. The past chairmen have been visionary and resilient throughout the years and continue to provide direction and support to CASA in their advisory capacity. I thank you all for inspiring me to take on this mantle and I am confident to serve our members and work for the betterment of our industry in these unprecedented times. 

Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate Shano Sabar and Janesh Ratnadasa on being elected as Vice Chairman and Treasurer, and I am confident we will work as an excellent team. I wish to thank outgoing Chairman Iqram Cuttilan for the leadership given to the Ex-Co in the past two challenging years and wish to seek your continuing support as immediate past Chairman. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank CASA Ex-Co and subcommittee Chairpersons for the excellent work done. I must appreciate and honour the services of the CASA Secretary-General Ralph Anandappa, who is also a past Chairman, who has been a tower of strength and also a valuable source of knowledge in any issue we were faced with. 


Maritime hub and economic potential – priorities for Government 

Ladies and gentlemen, the ports of Colombo, Hambantota, Galle and Trincomalee are strategic national assets with the shipping industry at its core. The importance of the shipping agents as an exporter of services, facilitators of trade, and earners of valuable foreign exchange has been in fact underplayed. The geopolitical and economic importance of the island’s strategic positioning and how to reap its full potential has been discussed and debated in many forums. 

CASA has recognised the top priorities for Sri Lanka to monetise the ocean economy and transform from being a transhipment hub to serve the region as an integrated maritime services centre. High on the priority list would be to build state-of-the-art port capacity and infrastructure to cater to all types of vessels including container, break bulk, roro, and cruise ships, keeping abreast with developing regional ports that continue to offer an attractive alternative to shipping lines. In 2021, we have seen a significant development of the long-awaited operationalisation of the East Container Terminal after a lapse of 5 years. The industry is hopeful that the full potential of this terminal will be achieved by procuring the cranes and equipment as per the schedule. We wish to thank our Minister Rohitha Abeygoonewardena for his commitment to take active and timely decisions on the issues faced by the industry and always give a fair hearing to the industry stakeholders. 

On the same note, we wish to extend our fullest support to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, SAGT and CICT in marketing the Port of Colombo with the shipping lines and growing the volumes of vessels and cargo and work hand in hand to further improve the process efficiency through digital transformation, which is the need of the hour. 

The industry eagerly awaits the implementation of an integrated port community system which will greatly enhance the ease of doing business ranked high on the priority list. Further, CASA also will continue to work closely with all the border agencies who are stakeholders in our industry, such as Customs, Immigration, Director-General of Merchant Shipping, Ministry of Defence, and Ministry of Health, and stress the importance of timely resolution of practical issues faced in day-to-day operations. 

CASA members have also been instrumental in developing value-added ancillary services to ships, such as the supply of bunkers, provisions, facilitating crew changes, marine waste management and marine insurance. Developing the regulatory landscape and physical infrastructure further to improve the quality and speed of these services at competitive pricing is yet another vital area for Government and policymakers to take note of. 

CASA members along with the Ceylon Shipping Corporation have been pioneers in building the country’s base of ship owners. Vessel ownership along with ship managers, supplying ship’s crew and maritime education centres all need to be incentivised and promoted as part of the national maritime priorities, which in turn contribute as a key forex earner to the nation. 


Global issues in past year and role of industry and CASA

Globally, ports are facing a backlog as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause havoc in the world’s supply chains. The capacity crunch, surging demand, and supply restrictions have led to a shortage of equipment and space, longer turnaround time of containers, and soaring freight rates. Despite the challenges, the Port of Colombo and the shipping services stakeholders have continued to function and facilitate essential services and commodities throughout the lockdowns. 

The front-line staff did indeed rise to this challenge by risking their own safety and innovating to transform digitally and continued to serve the trade. Shipping lines are by law not permitted to collect terminal handling charges as a separate charge as they do in regional ports, and this makes Colombo a less attractive and costly destination. Shipping agents have faced the daunting task of advocating for space on vessels for import-export cargo and convince lines to reposition containers to Colombo despite the restrictive local regulations.  The past year 2020/2021 has brought some unique challenges, and CASA has been at the forefront, actively engaged in providing practical solutions. The pandemic brought a unique opportunity for Sri Lanka to position ourselves as a crew change hub for foreign seafarers. CASA identified this opportunity and advocated to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to enable the transfer of the seafarers through industry-operated transport and isolation centres under the watch of the Army and Navy and strict health protocols. 

In fact, CASA was instrumental in drafting the standard operating procedure and initialising the service by marketing it to our principals. While being allowed to operate, CASA operations team were able to safely transfer over 3,000 seafarers.

It is, however, now unfortunate that this service of transfer and operation of isolation centres is in fact monopolised by one party and CASA is unable to secure the required permissions to operate despite the criteria being fulfilled. This has resulted in a loss of volume of seafarers handled in Sri Lankan ports and valuable foreign exchange for the members and the country. 

Similarly, CASA members who are key stakeholders in the transport of private maritime security personnel, have developed a thriving industry over the years using Galle as a transfer point to vessels prior to entering the high-risk area. It is vital that we continue to give a competitive offering to sea marshal companies to affect their transfers using Sri Lanka as a base and not lose to the low-cost alternative of the floating armouries in the red sea. 

The most unfortunate incident of the MV- Xpress pearl was also another event that shook the entire maritime community. This incident was also an eye-opener to the liabilities faced by the shipping agent. The role of the agent has been highlighted through this incident as a party who is criminally liable in the event of a pollution incident, even though the agent does not control the vessel nor the stowage of dangerous cargo on board vessels nor does the agent pack the containers, and is therefore in no position to confirm that the same is as per IMO standards as required by the port authority declarations. 

CASA has taken an active role to advocate for amendment of the relevant act to position the agent in line with his actual responsibilities of reporting the dangerous cargo details to the ports authority in time and notify any damage thereof in time. We stress that if the agent has not shown any negligence in this respect that, in fact, he should be indemnified of criminal liability arising from the pollution as is the case in other countries.

Over the years, CASA has been a key stakeholder in the formulation of national policy in line with the national interest and fostering entrepreneurship. The past year proved the value of having local ownership in shipping agency business as foreign exchange was in fact retained within the country and not entirely repatriated, if in fact the ownership was entirely foreign. 

The much-debated topic of liberalising the shipping agency business to make Sri Lanka a maritime hub has in fact proved to be a myth. These are false impressions created by vested interest when in fact the industry is already liberalised. 


Education and youth 

CASA is a strong believer in continuous knowledge and capacity building and disseminating relevant information in this highly changeable and dynamic industry. Our education subcommittee continues to organise relevant programs and collaborate with education institutes for the training of shipping agency personnel onshore and offshore. 

The CASA publicity committee has made the CASA e-ship schedules a must-have bulletin and made the bridge magazine an extremely interesting publication encompassing a much broader range of topics surrounding the maritime landscape. 

The future of the industry is our youth and CASA’s youth arm young ship have played an engaging role in the industry fostering the growth of young shipping professionals. 


Gender and future 

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a mammoth task at hand and I am confident to say I am not afraid of hard work and my passion and commitment to the industry is strong. It is fair to say that our industry, too, is evolving – my addressing you today as the first women Chairperson at the helm of a largely male-dominated association and industry is a testimony to this.

While thanking you all for the support I have received in the industry so far, I want to stress that I hope to see more women in this industry creating waves. I do not advocate feminism as a means to create separation with genders but believe in men and women working together for a common objective. My only and humble request is that we can all be aware of unconscious bias against women in our industry and work towards a more level playing field, enabling women to rise and contribute to creating gender parity and ultimately reap the proven economic benefits for all. 

On that note, I would once again like to thank all of you for joining us this evening, and I would especially like to thank the AGM committee headed by Dhamitha and Bevin and all CASA staff who made a tremendous effort to organise CASA’s first-ever digitally broadcast AGM despite the changes in regulations at the final hour. With all your support, I am confident that CASA can continue to be the most recognised voice in the shipping industry in the coming years. Stay safe, thank you, and may God bless you all.


Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents

The Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents, well known by the acronym CASA, is the voice of the shipping industry of Sri Lanka and has served the industry with unwavering focus and dedication since the association began as the Ceylon Shipping Committee in 1944. 

Its members represent all international shipping lines who call Sri Lankan ports due to its very strategic location in close proximity to the main international shipping lanes. 

Members of CASA are involved in vessel agency, husbanding services and act as manning/crewing agents for leading ship owners and managers. CASA members also provide various other services to ship owners/managers in the ports of Sri Lanka and at off port locations. 

Through regular dialogue with stakeholders, government institutions, regulatory bodies and other government and private sector agencies, CASA seeks to effect an interchange of ideas and information, represent and advocate the views of the association in all official fora and shape the future of the industry by investing in education and training for its members and working with maritime training academies to train seafarers.