Trincomalee, Sri Lanka: Arrival and Clearance in Detail
The following port clearance information is provided to help sailors visiting Sri Lanka. This information is based on two U.S.A. citizens on the 42-foot catamaran. Submitted by Jason Trautz, s/v YOLO.
Published 8 years ago, updated 4 years ago
SRI LANKA CLEARANCE INFORMATION
ARRIVAL DAY/ DATE: Monday, February 1, 2015
ARRIVAL PORT: Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
DEPARTURE DAY/DATE: March 2, 2015
DEPARTURE PORT: Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Consider the navigational information noted below as suggestions, and rely on your own sailing skills for accuracy and safety.
BAY OF BENGAL CROSSING
Most yachts visiting Sri Lanka depart from Langkawi, Malaysia or Phuket, Thailand. From Phuket, you sail almost due west to get to Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, which many people call “Trinco”. Or, you head a few degrees further south to sail to Galle or Colombo. When you leave Phuket you will typically encounter a few local fishing boats. The biggest surprise when sailings towards the Nicobar islands are the rivers of currents you encounter running north or south. You will certainly feel their counter current chop of over a knot and notice that your boat suddenly changes it’s heading, by 30 degrees or more in some cases. These streams of currents were less than a mile wide and were encountered every 5 or so nautical miles between Phuket and the Nicobars, regardless of the depth of the water. After we passed through the Nicobars using the Sombrero Channel between Great Nicobar Island and Katchal Island, the mid-ocean rivers disappeared. FYI, we sailed through the very deep and wide Sombrero Channel between Great Nicobar and Katchal at 0200 without any issues. No boats or fishing equipment was seen.
During late January and early February, steady winds from the northeast were encountered in the low to the mid-teen range. Seas, for the most part, stayed below 1.5 meters, often lower. With the winds on the aft quarter, per normal for this time of year, you should expect a comfortable 1,100 nm passage of around 9 days to get to Trinco. Several brief rain showers were encountered during our passage and the wind did come out of the northwest for several hours.
Dolphins and whales were about the only thing spotted between the Nicobars and Sri Lanka by most yachts.
About 65 nm from the west coast of Sri Lanka you may see a few fishing floats in very deep waters. Don’t be surprised if you hear Trinco Port Control on VHF channel 16 talking. About 35 nm from shore you may encounter a few fishing boats. These boats frequently approach yachts from all directions at full speed, with a cast of characters using flailing hand signals. Net, net, they want clothing, food, booze, or tobacco products, despite the crashing waves and winds. Wave them away and proceed west as fast as possible. Don’t be surprised if you have to bear off or start an engine to avoid them.
As normal, approach the port with your yellow Q flag flying.
Unlike most ports in Thailand and Malaysia, there are very few fishing vessels and related gear near Trinco (harbour or sea). And, despite many yachts trolling fishing lines from Thailand to Trinco, not a single fish was brought on board in 2015. Are there any fish left in SE Asian waters?
SRI LANKA PORTS OF CALL
There are only a few ports of call in Sri Lanka for yachts
COLOMBO: Historically, yachts been turned away from or avoided Colombo, the capital city, because the port is exposed to the sea and it is heavily commercialized. Colombo is on the central west coast of Sri Lanka.
GALLE: Further south on the southwest corner of Sri Lanka is the commercial port of Galle. Through the years this is has been the port of choice for most yachts. Galle is also exposed to nasty ocean swells and most yachts have been required to med-moor to the floating “Lego block” dock. This dock is not stable and is NOT designed for cleating off yachts stern-to. This dock has limited room on the inside and offers minor protection from the open sea. In 2015 a large catamaran was tied to the dock while the owner was away for an undetermined amount of time in France. During moderate weather, his bucking yacht started breaking up the Leg-like floating dock. Rumour has it, Galle will have a “new marina” built in 2016 for visiting yachts. Locals say, “Don’t bet on it…”
TRINCOMALEE: Starting in 2015 yachts have been cleared in and out of Trincomalee, which is located on the northeast corner of Sri Lanka.
The benefits of visiting Trinco are:
Safe all weather harbour.
Clearance costs are slightly less (by $7 USD) in Trinco when compared to other ports.
Off the beaten path, not covered with tourists during the northeast trade wind season.
Closer to the cultural triangle, Kandy, and some outstanding national parks.
Trinco is large enough to have just about everything you need within walking distance, and it does not have the issues typically associated with large commercialized cities.
Most experienced sailors, with accurate electronic charts, could make landfall at night, given permission by Port Control.
You are permitted to anchor right in the heart of the town and have free full access to a good dinghy dock which is guarded 24/7.
Trincomalee is a “working class” town, and the prices are lower than those found in Colombo or Galle.
It is a naval base and the Harbor Police station is on the water at the most common anchorage. Given the frequent security skiffs that pass by the yachts at anchor, you feel safe at all times. After being in Trinco and many other parts of Sri Lanka, I cannot imagine a safer place for you, your crew, or your yacht.
The passage from Phuket is about 1,100 nm and it is 1,200 km from Langkawi, just about due west. These distances are a few hundred miles less than those associated with the west coast ports, which may require sailing to windward against the prevailing winds and current.
Opportunities for improvement at Trinco:
Just a few years ago Trincomalee was at the epicentre of a 25+ year civil war. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (A.K.A. LTTE or Tamil Tigers) group in northern Sri Lanka wanted independence from the rest of the country. The civil war was concluded in 2009 when the country was declared united. After the war, the federal government enacted very tight “controls” on all forms of travel, commerce, etc. Their goal was to avoid another civil war. During the last 6 years the controls have loosened and for most people, life has returned to normal. As of 2015, yachts started to arrive at Trinco; there are 9 yachts anchored here as I type, and we are certainly the new kids on the block. The routine yachtie activities we have experienced at hundreds of ports around the world are now being established for the first time in Trinco. Net, net, the local officials, agents, and citizens are slowly developing the processes for handling foreign yachts and their crews. It is truly a work in progress and something we can certainly understand and live with given the recent history of Sri Lanka.
If you leave Trinco during the first quarter of the year and head south, you will most likely face a northbound current along the east coast.
Trinco harbour has clean clear water a few days each month. However, most days it appeals only to the rapidly growing barnacles. If you anchor in Trinco for more than 10 days, you will have to clean your bottom or suffer the consequences in terms of boat speed.
SRI LANKA AGENTS
You are required to have a shipping agent when clearing into and out of Sri Lanka. This applies to all yachts and all ports. You must select and correspond with your agent PRIOR to arrival. Most shipping agents have their main office in the capital, Colombo. However, they often subcontract the clearance process to local firms in Trinco and Galle.
I know of only two clearance agents for Trinco:
Main office in Colombo which handles all correspondence and invoicing:
Send e-mails to [email protected] or [email protected], or Chinthaka Wijesundara, [email protected], Operations Executive, Work Phone (Country Code +94) 114 797 900 or cell phone +94 773 313 639.
You can review www.gac.com for background information.
The local Trinco GAC representative is Ravindran Yogaraja known as “Ravi”. His contact information is [email protected], cell phone (+94) 077 767 3472
If you need to contact the GAC Operations Manager to resolve issues, contact Michael Jansen, [email protected], Shipping Limited | No. 284, Vauxhall Street, Colombo 02, Sri Lanka, work phone +94 114 797 900 or cell +94 773 442 798
2. Manaco Marine:
Main office in Colombo which handles all correspondence and invoicing: Send e-mails to [email protected], M. B. M. Rizwan, Deputy General Manager of Operations, work phone number +94 112 592 055 or +94 112 592 056, cell phone +94 771 766 769, [email protected]
See www.manaco.lk for more information.
The local Trinco Manaco Marine representative works for Victory Shipping, K. Sathiyaseelarasa, Managing Director, work phone +94 026 222 2697, [email protected]
Potential clearance agents for Galle:
1. Barwil Meridian Navigation, work phone +94 074 517 532, [email protected]
2. Marlan Jayasuriya, work phone +94 077 583 9541, [email protected]
3. Tango Shipping Agency, 29, Kachchiwatta Rd , Megalle , Galle, work phone +94 071 683 4708 or +94 915 625 867 or +94 915 637 401,VHF Channel 16/68 (24/7), [email protected]. Contact: Chatura Kudachchi. Also offer underwater hull cleaning and repairs, engine maintenance, provisions and other services.
4. Vin Ocean Shipping Limited, Galle Office, No. 245, Circular Road, Magalle, Galle, work phone +94 772 443 016, [email protected]
Vin Ocean Shipping Limited, Colombo Office, work phone +94 112 301 476 or +94 113 143 747
5. Windsor Reef Navigation, monitors VHF Channel 69, Mr Windsor is the local contact,[email protected], Muditha Windsor handles most correspondence., work phone +94 091 438 4944, 6/1 Closenberg Road Magalle Galle.
SRI LANKA VISA
Sri Lanka requires that you apply and be approved for a visa PRIOR to arrival. You apply for the visa online at www.eta.gov.lk, and pay approximately $35 USD per person during the application process. Good news, paying by credit card is part of the online application process. Tourist visas are good for 30 days and can only be extended by going to the head Immigration Office in the capital city of Colombo.
If you attempt to clear into Sri Lanka WITHOUT a pre-approved visa one of two things will happen:
1. You will be asked to leave Sri Lanka waters immediately, or
2. The local Immigration Officer may require a significant fee to process your visa on demand. In January 2015 several people fell into this category and the cost was $200 USD per person, no receipt provided.
APPROACHING TRINCO HARBOR
Trinco is a military and tourism town with a large naval base and dockyard. It is impossible to sneak up on or depart this port without encountering several naval vessels, who will approach you in or near the open ocean 24/7. When you get near Elephant Island (which is located at 08.31.0 N and 081.14.0 E) give Trinco Port Control a call on VHF channel 16. In most cases, Port Control will already know that you are approaching their port, as informed by the Navy, and will hail you on VHF 16. VHF Channel 10 is used as the port working channel. The port controllers are very professional and speak perfect English. They will ask you several questions before giving you permission to pass into the port via Elephant Pass. The questions are:
1. Verify the name of your vessel.
2. Length Over All of your vessel (LOA)
3. Gross tonnage
4. Last port of call
6. Number of people on board
7. Draft of your vessel
8. Port Control will ask you if you have the navigational charts for these waters and whether you want a pilot boat’s assistance to enter the port. Our Navionics (and others) electronic charts were spot-on in terms of port navigational aids and surrounding hazards. This is deep water, well-marked port, which I believe can be entered day or night by experienced sailors. A pilot boat was not required.
Hint: Any service provided by Port Control often results in additional charges on your departure invoice. For example, the cost of a pilot boat is $24 USD.
TRINCO NIGHT TIME APPROACH
During our stay, one yacht which approached the port at night was required to anchor outside the port near 08.30.44N and 081.12.46E, between Marble Point and Naditivu Island, in 5 meters of water, sand bottom, in the dark. The next day Port Control gave the captain permission to enter the port. This anchorage is open to the northeast and eastern winds and waves. In moderate conditions, most yachts would find it uncomfortable.
However, several days later several yachts were permitted to enter the port at night and anchor in Town Bay with the rest of the fleet. If requesting permission to enter the port at night emphasize your sailing experience and the fact that you have several up-to-date charts on board. If you do, Port Control might allow you to proceed into Town Bay at night. Another option at night is to request a Pilot Boat, the related $24 USD fee will be itemized on your agent invoice. Verify the cost before accepting the service.
TRINCO CHARTS AND REFERENCE POINTS
WARNING: We have three different types of electronic charts on YOLO. They all have the same titles for the reference points in Town Bay. However, Port Control consistently gives you instructions which are NOT accurate in terms of the electronic charts. For example, one yacht was told to anchor at a very specific latitude and longitude in Town Bay. The captain verified the lat-long with Port Control, then punched the coordinates into his chart plotter. The Port Control specified anchorage was 20 miles inland and 30 meters above sea level! The captain motored over to the rest of the Town Bay fleet and anchored on his own accord.
The reference points used in this document are the titles used on the navigation charts, NOT the terms sometimes used by Port Control and some locals.
When you look at the charts of the east side of Town Bay, from North to South you will read:
Powder Island Causeway, which has been reclaimed by the sea and is now a row of rocks with stakes along them. The east end of the causeway (mainland) has a small park with many trees in it. There is a sandy beach at this location and it is 15 meters from the road.
Passenger Pier, this is where the Customs and Harbor Police offices are now located. This is where yachts often tie-up when clearing into Trinco. The water approaching the pier and at the pier is around 3+ meters deep. Tie up on the north side of the pier, which does NOT have large truck tires attached to it. This pier is an ugly concrete monster, so have plenty of fenders out when using it (bow in, fenders on starb’d side).
Town Pier, which was destroyed in the war and is surrounded by fish traps/farms. The water near this pier is too shallow for most monohulls. Port Control often tells yachts that they MUST, “Go to the Town Pier to clear-in.” This statement is false and impossible for most yachts to achieve. If this is stated, reply, “Port Control would you like me to go to the pier used by Customs and the Harbor Police?” Port Control will reply, “Yes…” You should then proceed to the charted Passenger Pier.
F.G. Jetty, which is used by the navy and private companies.
FYI, there is a “new Ferry/Passenger Pier” now located between the charted Town Pier and F.G. Jetty. This pier is NOT on the charts and is used by the ferries crossing the bay and the tourist whale watching boats. The ferries and tour boats are no longer allowed to use the charted “Passenger Pier.”
The Port Control offices and the huge container ship piers are located on the west side of the harbour, about 4 km away. Port Control can NOT see yacht traffic in Town Bay and at the Passenger Pier. This is also where fuel purchases greater than 400 litres are done and truckloads of fresh drinking water can be secured.
Port Control frequently references “Round Island.” This small island is located at 08.30.8N and 081.13.6N and is about 1.5 nm SSW of Elephant Island and several miles south of the harbour entrance. Most yachts will not be “near Round Island” upon approach to Trinco. When Port Control tells you to call them when near Round Island, take the 5th and call them when you pass near Elephant Island.
When speaking with Port Control it is important that you specifically request permission to “ANCHOR IN TOWN BAY NEAR THE TOWN PIER.” The Town Pier Anchorage is located at 08.33.8 N and 081.13.8 E and has a good holding in about 24 feet/8 meters of water. Anchor west of the Passenger Pier and Town Pier. Avoid anchoring nearshore south of Town Pier. Several boats which did were forced to relocate by Port Control because “The local fishermen wanted to fish in this area.” The further you are from shore, the cleaner the water.
This port appears to be bulletproof in terms of avoiding high winds and seas. The “Town Pier Anchorage” (as described by Port Control) gives you nearby and safe access to the Passenger Pier. There is 24/7 security on Passenger Pier. This anchorage and dinghy dock is in the heart of Trinco.
If you do NOT request and get permission to anchor in the Town Bay/Town Pier Anchorage, Port Control will probably send you to China Bay, Mud Cove. This location is at the north end of Trinco harbour near several military bases. This location requires you to tie up to a large barge which has huge black tires as fenders and is located at 08.34.42N and 081.12.15E. There is an additional fee for using the barge. This location is way out of town and requires a taxi, bus, or tuk-tuk to get to Trinco town.
It is hard to believe that a yacht could find a safer location in Asia than Mud Cove or Town Bay when considering whether or personal safety.
Tides appear to be around half a meter. You might feel a small wake from the occasional ferry/tour boat. During 30 days we experienced no ocean swells and the largest wind-generated wave was the height of your hand.
After you anchor or tie to the barge, you must call Port Control. If you want to move your boat while in port you must get PRIOR permission from Port Control. When you drop your anchor Port Control wants to know the location and time. “Control” certainly means control, in Trinco. They are keen to keep track of where visiting yachts are located and to control the movements in this “high-security” port.
The clearance procedure for the first twelve yachts visiting Trinco, Sri Lanka were NOT consistent. We (yachts) are kind of new things…so to speak. However, the GAC Shipping agent, Port Control, and the local officials have handled the last eight clearances in this manner:
1. Port Control tells the yacht to tie up to the Passenger Pier for clearing in. As noted, he often refers to this pier as “Town Pier” in error. Port Control and your agent work together very closely. Both know you are on the list of potential arrivals. Port Control or the Harbor Police will automatically contact your agent for you when you approach the port.
2. When you are tied up at the Passenger Pier, call Port Control on VHF 16 and state so.
3. Your clearance agent will greet you at the pier, per his instructs from Port Control. Give him the passport of all crew members, the original exit papers from your last port of call, one copy of your crew list, and a copy of your ship’s registration paper. During the next 60+ minutes, your agent will clear your boat and crew into Sri Lanka. The agent often insists that all crew members remain on the yacht while he processes the paperwork. During this period Customs, Immigration, Harbor Police, the Harbor Authority, and Naval Security representatives MIGHT visit your yacht. S/V YOLO was visited by two officials, two weeks later another yacht was visited by over 20 officials! Again, yachts are a new thing, and most officials have absolutely nothing to do. So, recently it seems that everyone wants a looky look. In the future, I predict the official traffic count will dwindle significantly. All officials have been quick and professional in all regards. Assume you will have numerous boot marks on your decks.
4. When your agent returns your stamped passports, call Port Control and ask for permission to leave the Passenger Pier and anchor near the Town Pier (several hundred meters southwest).
5. After you anchor, call Port Control and state that you are anchored near the Town Pier.
6. While at anchor or when you are tied up to the Passenger Pier the navy will send a skiff to visit you. The young navy guys will complete a quick and harmless “security check” which might include having a diver inspect your hull below the waterline. During one underwater inspection, they saw a fishing rope wrapped around the yacht’s propeller. The Divers were professionals and removed the line free of charge!
NOTE: One yacht had a detailed Customs inspection. During the inspection they raised concerns about two boxes of wine, however, ignored cases of beer which Customs claimed were NOT important alcohol concerns. This might have been an isolated event since the other yachts had cases of rum, gin, scotch, vodka, beer, and/or wine on them in plain sight, which resulted in no issues or comments by the inspecting officials. “Burp, why Officer, more rum is the answer, burp, what was the question?”
Contact Captain Lakshi Wasantha, Deputy Harbor Master, at [email protected] if you need assistance concerning harbour issues. He rules the harbour, for sure.
1. Contact your agent four business days prior to wanting to leave Trinco to request a final invoice. Your local agent will contact the main shipping office in Colombo and all of the local governmental offices.
2. Several days after your initial request, your agent will give you an invoice. Take a deep breath and review the invoice. In early 2015 most invoices were several times higher than the agent’s quoted price for visiting Sri Lanka. However, all charges were clearly explained and the errors quickly corrected. The last eight yachts had picture perfect invoices, on round one, for $218 USD.
3. The day before departure you and your agent should meet. Give him your passports, usually late in the day.
4. The next morning your agent will meet with you. He will give you your stamped (exit) passports, and your outbound clearance document. He will also collect all funds due, per the shipping agent invoice.
5. During your last day in port, the navy security guys will visit your boat. They will ask to see your passports, make a few notes on their forms, and take a quick look around your boat. Unless you are transporting weapons of mass destruction, involved in human trafficking, or illegally exporting Asian elephants, you are now free to leave the secure waters of Trinco and Sri Lanka.
6. Place a VHF call to Port Control and ask for permission to raise your anchor and leave the harbour. These may be two separate requests. You’ll certainly need extra time to clean the barnacles off your chain as you retrieve your anchor.
Technically, you are NOT permitted to step foot on Sri Lanka soil after your passports have been stamped and you receive your Port Clearance document. However, rumour has it that magical agents have secured stamped passports 48 hours in advance of departure, head waggle.
Trinco: The total cost for clearing and out during a 30 day or less visit is $218 USD. This amount covers all normal activities/requirements for your yacht and all crew members. If you want additional services they cost extra:
1. Tie off to a commercial dock/pier: About 25 cents per hour.
2. Tie off to the barge in China Bay, Mud Cove. About 25 cents per hour.
3. A pilot boat, which is not really needed: $24 USD (night or day)
4. If you want to stay more than 30 days, your next 30 day period will cost an additional $100 USD, for a 60 day total of $318 USD. This must be arranged in advance through your agent.
Arrive and depart whenever you want, there are no overtime charges.
Galle: Historically, all agencies in Galle charged about the same price for the same services. Most yachts used Windsor Reef as their agency. When approaching the Galle harbour call them on VHF channel 69 and they will advise you from there. In 2015 his quoted fee for inward and outward clearance charges, harbour dues, and agency fees for a 30-day visit was $225 USD. I do not know what additional charges exist for Galle.
Payment: Some agencies request or require that you pay them for their services prior to arrival. And, they might request that you send the money via electronic funds transfer (EFT bank transfer). One cruiser followed their request and incurred a $40 bank transfer fee from their bank during the initial EFT. Unfortunately, the agent gave them the wrong name on their bank account and the EFT was rejected in Sri Lanka. The cruiser then completed a second EFT, costing them another $40 USD. When the EFT arrived in the agency’s bank account the agency’s local bank debited $20 USD for the inbound EFT. At that point, the agency claimed that the cruiser still owned them $20 USD and requested a third EFT which would cost the cruiser a third $40 USD processing. Net, net, you might want to seriously consider paying your agent in local currency or US dollars, with a paid receipt in return. Or, clarify who is going to pay the bank fees prior to transferring the funds.
IT IS CRITICAL that you get a quote from your potential agent PRIOR to visiting Sri Lanka. You should ask for an itemized list of ALL governmental and agent fees which will be incurred during an estimated stay in Sri Lanka. Retain this e-mail information…you will probably need it as a reference document when you clear out of Sri Lanka.
The agent we used in Trinco, GAC, accepts cash (Sri Lanka rupees and/or U.S. dollars) only. We paid our agent AFTER he returned our stamped passports and outbound papers.
Prior to raising the hook call Port Control. When leaving the bay, wave at the boys on the Navy security boats. If the trades are blowing you will have to make a few long tacks to get out to the ocean. Turn right and head south. During the first quarter of the year, you will experience a northbound current on the entire east coast of Sri Lanka. Very few fishing boats exist along the coast, and if you do see one it will be within several miles of the coast. The fishermen tend to use hand lines or short floating nets which are well marked and very close to their boats. You might see one or two cargo ships, they travel 10+ miles off the coast. Travelling at night down the coast should pose no risks.
Sri Lanka is a wonderful place to visit. The multi-cultural communities are very safe, warm, and friendly. Trinco will undoubtedly be the preferred stop for cruisers visiting Sri Lanka in the coming years. Read the Sri Lanka Cruising Information article on Noonsite for more information.
Submitted by: Jason Trautz, s/v YOLO (You Only Live Once, life is not a rehearsal)