On a Mission – General R.M. Daya Ratnayake, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority

From commanding an army to running the heart of the nation, General R M D (Daya) Ratnayake, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, is a former Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. He has commanded Divisions and Brigades during the separatist war in Sri Lanka,  and is the only military officer in the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to receive the highest number of gallantry medals.

He has also held the appointment as Chief-of-Staff of the Sri Lanka Army and had the privilege of becoming the first Commissioner General of Rehabilitation in Sri Lanka.

Moreover, he has held the appointment as Military Spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, Senior Intelligence Officer at the Operations Headquarters at Ministry of Defence, Commanding Officer of the Sri Lanka Military Academy, Chief Instructor in the Military Intelligence School and Chief Instructor of the Army Training School. He was also the Senior Intelligence Officer in charge of the Northern Peninsula during 1991-1992.

He has graduated from the National Defence University, Beijing, People’s Republic of China and Defence Service Command and Staff College, Dhaka, Bangladesh and is currently reading for a PhD at Kotelawala Defence University.

Daya stated that his unique military experience has allowed him to work in any industry and that he is on the mission of transforming the Sri Lanka Ports Authority into the true heart of the nation.

“I realised the ports authority is an ideal organisation to practice my long years  of military experience away from the military.

“In the military, we always try to find out the core of the issue in trying to resolve conflicts. Further when we lead in the military we explain our subordinates the purpose, (as to why we are doing it) give proper directions, (how it should be done) and properly motivate (do it with conviction) them to achieve desired results.

“With a short span of time I understood that the port has been running for a long time without such a focus, and hence, I am now on a mission to transform the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to be the real heart of the nation.”

In 2019, the Colombo Port was ranked as the number one growing port in the world. Being a comparatively small island nation achieving these heights in the ports industry is vital as a country. Today, the Colombo Port has achieved high standards by being the 22nd largest port in terms of container handling and it has been ranked as the 13th most connected port in the world.

Furthermore, the General stated five main reasons why the port is of paramount importance to Sri Lanka:

  • Sri Lanka is an island nation which totally depends on its ports and airports for international trade and connections.
  • Here, 99.7% of the cargo is exchanged through the seaports around the country and the majority at the port of Colombo. This makes the port the major import export facilitator of the country. Only around 0.3% cargo is moved using airports which accounts to around 300,000T. 
  • In terms of the Tourism industry, we facilitate cruise ship arrivals to the country. This benefits many households which depend on this. 
  • We have been acting as a main source of foreign exchange earner to the country.
  • The port is a major industrial area which makes it a major training provider for the nation. Through the Mahapola training institute, SLPA has trained and provided much needed industry experience to many seafarers, engineers, technical positions and other undergraduates in the fields related to Transport and logistics.

While most of the ports around the world halted their operations, Sri Lanka, being a small nation and under the leadership of Daya, successfully operated without hindrance.

Explaining how it successfully operated, Daya affirmed, “Following the news reports on the outbreak of the virus, a special task force was set up under the leadership of His Excellency the President. For this purpose, almost all the experts in this field were brought together. Special attention was paid to the strategic measures to be taken if the virus enters Sri Lanka.

“History has shown that many viruses that caused pandemics have spread to the country from the seaports. It has been reported that the pandemics, known as the Spanish flu or Bombay fever, which killed about 6% of the population in Sri Lanka at that time, had entered the country from the ports in Colombo and Mannar. Needless to say, ports are the most sensitive places in any country.

“Ports are the core of any country’s physical dealings with other countries. If the operation of the port is stopped, the whole country will have to suffer. Therefore, with the report of this new coronavirus, a special strategic mechanism was implemented on how all the ports in the country should function. The main focus was on how to protect all port employees and users to maintain operations without any hindrance. Therefore, everyone related to port activities was made aware of how to follow health recommendations. In order to implement those instructions more effectively, the necessary guidelines were drawn up and the necessary facilities were provided to all to follow the instructions contained therein.

“Not only did the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic manage more successfully but also we stood up for the seafarers including ship’s crew members when they refused to enter some countries. We provided them with the humanitarian assistance they needed at all times.

He continued: “Randomly selected samples of port employees have been continually referred for PCR tests. Disinfection of all ports and all terminals premises continued. Every facility is in place so that everyone entering the port premises can comply with strict health guidance.

“It is important to note that our efforts to control this epidemic have been commended even by local health experts. In particular, a number of technical and humanitarian measures have been put in place to protect all port employees and port users from this virus. One of its key steps is the Covid-19 Preventive Actions Committee. This Committee is working with the utmost responsibility for implementing all necessary measures to control the virus from Port premises.

“Currently, the spread of the virus in Sri Lankan ports has been brought under control to a considerable extent. At the same time, the Colombo Port continues to work in achieving the national goals of the country while safeguarding industrial peace. The magic bullet of the secret of controlling the spread of this virus in Ports in the country is nothing but maintaining the industrial peace and taking collective actions against this unseen common enemy.”

Speaking about the Belt and Road initiative, Daya said that although many regional powers oppose it, the Chinese government will continue the project, and Sri Lanka, as a small country located in a strategically important location, must develop appropriate strategies to benefit the best interests of the country.

In conclusion, the Chairman mentioned that the Colombo Port, which is located almost in the centre of the world and considered to be the gateway to Asia, and while the world and regional powers compete with each other for supremacy, Sri Lanka has an excellent opportunity to make the most of it.

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