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Colombo Breakwater

Colombo, Sri Lanka




4 years


£0.9bn (£1.1bn today)


Sri Lanka
Project achievements

Greater accessibility

Expanded the port’s capacity by 12m TEUs.

Economy boosted

Created 3,800 permanent jobs.

Used engineering skill

Created 3,800 permanent jobs.

Construct a breakwater for the port of Colombo

The Port of Colombo is the largest and busiest port in Sri Lanka. It's located in Colombo, the country's commercial capital.

Colombo is one of the biggest artificial harbours in the world, and ranks as one of the world’s top 35 ports. It’s an important terminal for shipping in Asia, largely due to its position on the major trade routes crossing the Indian Ocean.

Colombo has a capacity of 6m TEUs a year. A TEU is an approximate unit of cargo capacity used to describe the capacity of container ports – such as Colombo – and container ships. A TEU is based on the volume of a 20ft (6.1m) long metal box.

Port bosses unrolled a major expansion project for the harbour in 2008. Plans included the construction of four new terminals 1,200m long. Each terminal is designed to take three berths.

The scheme also saw the harbour channel widened to 560m and a new harbour basin depth of 18m. The expanded port would see its capacity boosted to over 12m TEUs.

The main breakwater is 5.14km long. A secondary 1.6km-long breakwater encloses a small harbour.

The first new Colombo south container terminal (CSCT) is now a key part of the harbour extension scheme.

Built by a Chinese/Sri Lankan joint venture, it's now in operation. The East Terminal is partly built, with more to follow.

Colombo Breakwater and Harbour

Peter Neville-Jones from AECOM talks to us about the building of the new harbour at the Port of Colombo, and the 5.14km-long breakwater needed to provide protection from monsoon storms.

Did you know …

  1. Construction of the south container terminal more than doubled the size of the port of Colombo.

  2. Sri Lankan authorities planned to build a new financial centre - Colombo International Financial City – on reclaimed land near the port. The idea was shelved after a change of government.

  3. The main breakwater has its own lighthouse, built in 2013. The structure is one of six in the port.

Difference the project has made

Harbour bosses say the expanded port should be able to accommodate container ships of any size likely to be in service in the near future.

The port’s greater capacity is a trigger for wider economic growth in the region.

The South Container Terminal has already created over 3,800 permanent jobs, and more are expected to follow. 

How the work was done

The Colombo south container project saw the construction of two breakwaters. The main breakwater is 5.14km long, with a second at 1.6km.

The scheme dredged a new two-way approach channel for ships 18m deep. Dredged materials from the dredging works were recycled to form the land reclamation.

Rock is often used as the core material for breakwater schemes. As Sri Lanka has strict environmental controls on quarry operations, the project team saw there would be limitations getting enough stone for the project.

Engineers decided to use sand for the core of the main breakwater, to minimise quarrying and to facilitate production. Material dredged while creating the shipping approach channel was recycled to form the core for the breakwater. 

The breakwaters were designed and assessed using mathematical and physical models to ensure stability in the major Indian Ocean storms, and to assess how they'd withstand forces from waves hitting the structures.

People who made it happen

  • Client: Sri Lanka Ports Authority
  • Contracting engineers: Hyundai Engineering and Construction Colombo south container terminal built by Colombo International Container Terminals - a joint venture between China Merchants Holdings (International) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

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