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Container Throughput at Port of Colombo Grows by 1.3% YoY; Transshipment Volumes Surge by 2.1% YoY

By Nishel Fernando

The Port of Colombo witnessed a modest recovery in container throughput during 2023, rebounding from the economic crisis and political and social unrest of the previous year. Notably, a substantial increase in transshipment container volumes in December was attributed to advantages gained from the Red Sea crisis, according to data from Sri Lanka’s Port Authority (SLPA).

In 2023, the container throughput at the Port of Colombo expanded by 1.3% year-on-year (YoY) to 6.949 million TEUs, signaling a return of confidence in the country by major shipping lines. Transshipment volumes rose by 2.1% YoY to 5.75 million TEUs, accounting for 83% of the port’s container throughput during the period.

In December, transshipment volumes increased by 10.4% YoY to 515,404 TEUs, with the port becoming a short-term transit point for major shipping lines rerouting vessels around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid disruptions and high insurance premiums amid attacks on vessels in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

While the Port of Colombo appears to benefit from the current crisis, some industry players express concerns about the sustainability of recent gains in the long term. There is a cautious outlook, suggesting the potential loss of transshipment volumes if the crisis continues to disrupt the shipping industry. However, SLPA Chairman Keith D. Bernard remains optimistic about the continuation of the current trend.

Import container (laden) volumes declined by 0.6% YoY to 438,234 TEUs, and export container (laden) volumes dropped by 6% YoY to 263,440 TEUs in the year. Restowing volumes at the port increased by 4.8% YoY to 205,659 TEUs.

The Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), the port’s fully operational deep container terminal, handled 3.22 million TEUs in 2023, up by 1.2% from 3.18 TEUs in 2021. The SLPA-managed Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) and the partially operational East Container Terminal (ECT) together handled 1.96 million TEUs, marking a 2% increase from 1.92 million TEUs in 2022. Container volumes at the South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) rose by 0.7% YoY to 1.76 million TEUs.

The Port of Colombo targets approximately seven million TEUs in container volumes for the current year, with the port’s capacity expected to reach 8.5 million TEUs following the operationalization of ECT. The port achieved its all-time container throughput record of 7.25 million TEUs in 2019.

Overall ship traffic at the Port of Colombo recorded a 16.1% YoY increase to 4237 vessels, including 3890 container ships during the period. There was a notable rise in ships calling for repairs, while fewer ships called for bunkering purposes. Source –

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