Colombo Dockyard

Sea traffic round the Indian subcontinent has to skirt the southern tip of Sri Lanka, as does the long haul bulk cargo, tanker and container traffic that plies between east and west. That gives Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, a unique advantage that can’t be taken away; but Sri Lanka was racked by internal strife for nearly 30 years. The conflict made shipowners wary of entering service arrangements with the dockyard as insurance premiums were raised, says. That conflict was comprehensively resolved in 2009, and the way finally laid open for Colombo to take its rightful place in the maritime service industry. “Sri Lanka is now one of the freest and least troublesome areas in the world to carry out ship repairs,” said Mangala P B Yapa, CEO and managing director of Colombo Dockyard.

The Colombo Dockyard Company managed to grow consistently through the years of conflict, a testing time for the competence and efficiency of its management team.  In subsequent years the same people have been able to take advantage of the ‘peace dividend’ and grow the existing services offered by the dockyard while developing new and imaginative ways to serve traditional markets. At the same time they have established Colombo dockyard as a focal point and centre of excellence for servicing the ever more specialized needs of the offshore oil and gas industry.

A controlling share in the business belongs to Onomichi Dockyard Company of Japan. That has always been a key factor in making Colombo Dockyard one of Sri Lanka’s most successful and efficient businesses, importing business practices like kaizen (continuous improvement) and lean working from Japan while retaining Sri Lanka’s people-friendly and collaborative culture.

Over the years Colombo Dockyard has offered repair and assistance to more than 9,000 ships and has constructed over 230 new ships for both local and international clientele. Today it is one of Sri Lanka’s largest foreign exchange earners, generating an average annual turnover of over $130 million, which equals to one percent of Sri Lanka’s total export revenue. In addition to the economic benefit, the socio-cultural benefit it provides to the country is immeasurable, providing work to over 3,000 Sri Lankans and industrial skill training to more than 450 trainees at any given time, developing an indigenous industry and placing Sri Lanka on the world map of elite shipbuilders and repairers.

Colombo Dockyard employs 1,300 people, supplementing them with contracted labour as needed. A third of these employees have been trained in shipbuilding at Onomichi—shipbuilding is an important activity at the dock, though until 2005 it built only for the local market. However the market for new ships turned up about that time and the management decided to actively look outward to external markets. Today the yard has the capacity to build vessels of 100 metres and more in length. 

Last year the company completed the first of three 78 metre multipurpose platform supply and ROV support vessels for the Greatship Group, each with accommodation for 50 people.  The Roopa launched on March 5th and delivered last July is a remarkably high tech vessel. Its main job is to support offshore oil and gas fields around the clock and the Vessel will have an endurance of 35 days and a cruising range of about 9,200 nautical miles, with a top speed of nearly 14 knots. Once on site it can manoeuvre with precision and is equipped with an advanced dynamic positioning system that allows safe and efficient operations in close proximity to oil platforms and rigs, even under the harsh weather conditions. An important bonus for the owner is that the ship is designed to be surveyed at sea. Rather than having to put into a dry dock periodically it can stay in service for five years at a stretch. Roopa’s sister ship Rachna was launched on June 28th and went into service in September last year, with Ragini joining them on December 31.

The yard has been building luxury yachts, ferries and cargo vessels too. Just two years after delivering its first two passenger vessels for the Indian government, the Arabian Sea and Lakshadweep Sea, Colombo Dockyard signed a contract for two more ships capable of carrying 400 passengers and 250 tons of cargo specifically for coastal trade routes round India. However the repair and maintenance trade that has always been the bread and butter off the business, continues to develop apace. In the ship repair sector on average, Colombo Dockyard handles over 200 vessels annually with 100 accommodated in dry dock and the balance accommodated at its repair berths.  Colombo Dockyard is capable of handling all routine, damage and retrofit repairs.

Colombo Dockyard operates four dry docks ranging in length from 107 to 263 metres, and more than 1,000 metres of fully serviced alongside repair berths. These quayside facilities are ideal for the growing number of container ships that put into Colombo. . These ships normally dry dock at their destination ports either in Europe or the Far East but frequently need repair and maintenance to equipment. CDL now offers a very comprehensive Afloat Repair service that deals with any issue that does not need dry dock facilities – engine room, compressors, generators, electronics, pipework and electrical wiring can all be serviced with very little delay. 

The dockyard is in partnership with all the OEM suppliers such as ABB, Cummins, MAN or Caterpillar, all of which have their own local service companies.  “We can have components waiting and install them at the next visit,” says Mangala Yapa. “We can even put repair personnel on board so the repairs can be carried out while the vessel is on the way to its next port of call. The advantage is that we have a duty free facility so all these things happen without attracting any custom duty, and that includes spare parts. An owner who has a fleet of container vessels plying to Colombo can keep his spare parts stored at Colombo Dockyard without paying any custom duty.”

Colombo is now seen by shipowners as a reliable and highly professional service centre, with a world class skills base thanks to the Onomichi connection. With competitive labour costs, sophisticated IT systems and ISO certified dockyard systems as well as fully integrated stock management to support long term service agreements Colombo Dockyard is a clear choice for operators and owners operating in the region – or just passing through.

Written by John O’Hanlon, research by Abi Abagun