The Oil Tank Farm was never used in full capacity. Each tank was designed to hold 12,000 tonnes of fuel, giving a total capacity of over 1.0 million tonnes. This dwarfs the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC)’s existing storage facility including the new storage complex built at Muthurajawela, which has a capacity of 200,000 tonnes. Government’s plan to utilize these facilities is commendable for the tanks could be made into a profitable business.
Trincomalee harbour being the second deepest natural harbour in the world, the British who were in control of the island decided make this as their primary logistics station in the east after World War I. They started the oil storage project in the 1924 and completed in late 1930’s. The farm had 101 storage tanks built with 1 inch thick steel sheets and the tanks near the harbour are enclosed by 1 foot thick concrete rings. Legend has it that labourers were brought in from British African colonies to complete the work. 102 tanks were planned but the site of 100th tank was cleared but never built probably out of superstition. The storage complex fell in to disuse after the British ceded power in 1948 and after independence is a forgotten marvel lost in time and absorbed by the jungles. A hidden landmark to the public eye that provides a spectacular aerial view creating 101 random circles covering 850 acres. Most of this land is covered by scrub jungle teaming with wildlife including elephants and leopards.
The Trincomalee harbour was a critical operational and logistic station for the allied forces operating the region during the World War II. The Japanese attacked Trincomalee harbour in 1942 and the tank farm which provided refueling facility for most of the naval destroyers in the region was one of their main targets. The Japanese couldn’t achieve its objective, but one plane piloted by a ‘Shigenori Watanabe’ probably hit by anti-aircraft gun fire made a kamikaze dive on to the tank number 91. Only the charred, twisted and melted metal remains of this tank and a small notice near the tank gives details of how the tank was destroyed in the attack during the Japanese air raid on Trincomalee. Out of the 101 tanks one of the tanks was destroyed when a Royal Ceylon Air Force plane crashed in early 1960’s. The steel has long since been removed with only the concrete cover remaining. But most famous is the destroyed tank number 91 lying in the far edge of the forest. The resulting fire that broke out lasted for seven days and generated so much heat that the steel melted and rolled over on itself. The rusted wreckage of the engine is all that can be seen of the aircraft is now on display at the Air Force Museum in Colombo. Only a skull was recovered out of the remains of the passengers of the air craft. Since this tank farm is under the control of IOC, permission is required to visit the Tank Number 91. The CPC used only 15 tanks in the lower tank farm close to the sea until the farm was handed over to the Indian oil giant Indian Oil Company (IOC) in 2002 and today use only these tanks while others were forgotten in the jungles.
The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) may have the capacity to do the renovation work at China Bay in terms of manpower, but in today’s context the renovation estimated to cost around US$ five million and with funds required for the renovation of oil refinery at Sapugaskana would be additional financial burden on CPC. The Unity Government is commendable for the tanks could be made a profitable business to distribute fuel sheds from China Bay to the Northern and Eastern parts of the country by trains. This would complement the Kolonnawa oil storage facility and the storage tanks in Hambantota for which the government has a 20 years loan to be paid to China amounting to US$ 100 million. Government strategy is to give IOC to renovate the farm and make use of the facility to jointly share the profits.