War, a lame excuse of the unsuccessful
local ship building industry can be turned around to be Sri Lanka's
number one forex earner. The present security situation and limited
access to the Colombo Port will not have any adverse effects to the
booming ship repair industry.
War is a lame excuse put forward by inefficient entrepreneurs. "What
the country needs is to put the local ship repair industry above the
apparel industry as a proper marketing tool similar to tourism,"
Chairman Colombo Engineering, Kiran Atapattu said.
Chairman Colombo Engineering Kiran Atapattu. Pictures by
He says that Singapore is currently doing this successfully and Sri
Lanka too could get there in just five years if a proper marketing
campaign could be launched to attract ships to Colombo.
He said that Sri Lanka is in the middle of the East and West shipping
route and this is the key to attract ships. This was why foreign rulers
and Japan during the world war wanted to control Sri Lanka.
Many people are also not aware that the Dondra Lighthouse is the main
focusing point for ship engineers world over to plan their journeys when
travelling from West to East.
Atapattu explained that unlike container vessels which turn around in
less than 24 hours, a ship heading to a harbour for repairs stays on for
over five days. The crew goes on a holiday thus giving the country
"They pay for staying on local territorial waters, anchorage fees,
refuel, make purchases running into millions of rupees and most
importantly travel in Sri Lanka giving tourism a boost as well.
I also plan way ahead and when staff go for deep sea repairs they not
only take additional equipment but also take deep freezers, gas cookers
and food supplies sufficient to finish the job without returning to
He says that it is the businessmen who cannot plan their future and
control overheads that lament of a negative economy. "The best profits
for me from my entire 23 year-old career have come in the last financial
year. So who says that the economy is nose diving?" he asks.
Recalling his childhood days, Atapattu says that getting into Royal
College and the education he received moulded him to be the successful
businessman today. "During my teens, foreign education or international
school was not open for Sri Lankans. The only choice available was the
universities and the Law College. However I did not want to be a
professional as I thought that their jobs were not exciting.
Q: How did you develop a liking to the shipping industry?
Since I was staying in Colombo 4 by the sea I saw several ships going
in and out of the Colombo harbour and developed a passion for ships.
When I saw a shipping advertisement, I decided to apply and I was
recruited in 1975 for a Rs. 210 salary. After training I was offered a
job in a ship and my first task was to wash the toilets. Thereafter I
had to wipe the engine rooms and throw away the cotton wads. A few
months later I was asked to oil the engine and in one year I was in a
position to repair engines.
When I came back to Sri Lanka after two years being in the ship, my
mother pressurised me not to sail again. This was the time I decided to
set up my own company and I invested Rs. 10,000 (savings from my salary)
to start Colombo Engineering with just two employees.
Today when a ship sends me an e mail requesting for a repair, by
reading it I can forecast the repair, staff, equipment, material, time
needed to mend it and the quotation to precision.
Two decades after forming Colombo Engineering, I can say that we are
a leader the industry and I have been invited by Lebanon, Doha and
Muscat to open ship repairing centers. However I cannot pursue these
proposals since there is no qualified staff to recruit.
Q: What is the secret of winning so many awards?
I am the only entrepreneur in Sri Lanka to win 20 individual awards
and this is due to my top class customer service, immediate response,
dedication, total responsibility, prompt attendance commitment, and most
of all a job done to perfection to international standards.
Q: What do you think of the Provincial Council system?
I do not follow it as it does not concern me and I do not know to
comment on it.
Q: What do you think of the ethnic conflict?
All I know is that was going on for 25 years and a solution is
needed. It's up to the politicians to handle it and not the businessman.
Of course we like it being settled.
Q: How do you cope up with the high fuel charges?
This is not an issue for me. I am a person who is always prepared for
the future. I read papers, TV and the internet and know that the oil
prices are going to soar. As an experienced entrepreneur I see the
future and I have stocked fuel to the value of almost Rs. 3 million to
meet my requirements for the next three months. By the time my stocks
are over the prices would decline.
Q: How do you see the high cost of essential goods?
This is a scenario happening all over the world. Whichever the
Government in power it will not be able to provide essential goods at a
lower rate. However the Government could have buffer stocks which can be
released to the market if merchants are creating an artificial scarcity
to raise prices.
Q: You are also an advisor to the Sports Minister.
As you know sports is loved by each and every person in the world.
Promoting sports in the country builds a healthy nation and it's the
biggest promoter of tourism.
Q: Recall an unforgettable experience you faced overseas?
Soon after the Anuradhapura Air Force Camp attack I was in Germany to
woo ship companies to visit Colombo. They refused saying Colombo was
attacked. I felt so bad as the international media has blown the
incident out of proportion. However I was able to convince them that
Anuradhapura is over 200km away from the capital and they decided to
come to Sri Lanka.
I am not only marketing my company I always make it a point to
promote Sri Lanka when I go overseas.
Q: What is your favourite destination overseas for a holiday?
I have travelled entire length and breath of the world. However
everything found overseas is available in Sri Lanka. And for me the best
destination is Sri Lanka and I prefer to spend that money in Sri Lanka.