The following is a statement based on remarks made by General Daya Ratnayake – Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority at the press conference held yesterday in Colombo to clarify the incident surrounding the fire on X-Press Pearl, a container ship during her anchorage at the Colombo Port.
The ship which caught fire is a feeder. About 82% of our business is based on transshipments. The operators, X-Press Feeders, which this ship belong to one of the world’s best operators for transshipment. This container operator has been working with the Port of Colombo for over 40 years. During the year 2019-2020, this was one of the highest ranked feeders for the Port of Colombo This company operated 295 ships (464156 containers) in 2019, 234 ships (377161 containers) in 2020 and in 2021 we have operated 74 ships so far at the Port of Colombo alone.
It is very important to understand the circumstances which led to this unfortunate event. The ship first called at the Port of Colombo on March 18-19 this year. Similarly, on April 18-19 it also called at the Port of Colombo. It was also due to arrive in May as the part of scheduled voyage. However, due to the rough seas at that time, the ship arrived at the anchorage of Port of Colombo on the 20th after a delay of two day. By 24th due to inclement weather, the sea conditions and rough winds exacerbated the situation.
Gantry cranes at the port automatically shut down in the face of strong winds. This has not happened in last two decades of the Port’s history. Operations were disrupted at the port for nearly 39 hours. Due to strong winds and rough seas, the entire port had to be closed. To put it simply, the port generally handles about 20,000 containers a day. But in these 39 hours we have only been able to handle 208 containers. It shows the influence of unfavourable weather condition on our daily operations. During this 39-hour window, the distressed ship was also facing this situation while at sea. But, we at SLPA and other stakeholders tried our best to contain the fire and ensure the safety of all concerned.
The Port of Colombo is held in high reputation in this region and beyond. We have proved our resilience as a transshipments hub port in the region. A similar unfortunate situation took place in 2017 where a container ship belonging to the second largest shipping company in the world, distressed about 144 km away from Port of Colombo. But our skilled employees without any hesitation went to great lengths to help those on board the ship and stabled the supply chain. That ship was carrying 14,000 containers at the time. She was brought in to Port of Colombo and we helped her continue the scheduled voyage. Recently, we managed a fire onboard the distressed Blue Diamond in a similar manner.