Colombo: Sri Lanka`s new southern port of Hambantota, developed by Chinese investment, began commercial operations on Wednesday with a large shipment of 1000 cars from India among the first to berth at the facility.
Hambantota, the island`s second international sea port, saw two vessels carrying vehicles being berthed at the port as it launched its trans-shipment services.
The ship, Asian Sun carrying 1,000 cars from Chennai berthed in the morning.
The first vessel, The N4K FRICIA from Japan carrying 15 vehicles for trans-shipment, called at the Hambantota last night.
The port named after president Mahinda Rajapaksa and built with Chinese funds is to be developed as a transhipment hub while easing congestion at the main port of Colombo.
"At present due to non availability of dedicated automobile terminal in the port of Colombo and lack of yard storage areas, roll and roll off vessels have suffered long delays. This has in turn resulted in operators increasing freight rates to Colombo.
"The new port will enable to reduce congestion in Colombo," Priyath Bandu Wickrema, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority said.
The construction of the port in the home district of Rajapaksa had drawn criticism from opposition that highlighted the lack of ships calling on the port since it was declared open in November 2010.
"Today`s new development will also extend a practically positive reply to a number of adverse reports made by certain parties against the Hambantota port," Wickrema said defending the facility.
China has funded construction of the port. The first phase cost USD 360 million while the second phase is expected to be completed by 2014 and will cost an additional USD 750 million.
The port was formally opened in November 2010.