Sri Lankan security forces fired warning shots Saturday to disperse striking dock workers who have prevented a Japanese vessel from leaving the port for four days, a navy spokesman said.
Captain Alavi Akram said armed navy sailors used boats to reach a pier occupied by dozens of workers preventing Japan's "K" Line vessel Hyperion Highway leaving for its next destination Oman.
"We were called in because the action of the dock workers amounted to sea piracy," Akram told AFP. "We went in to make sure that the foreign vessel could have free passage."
A spokesman for the local agent for the vessel said its Bulgarian captain and 24 other crew members from the Philippines were safe, but the shipping line was losing money at the rate of $100,000 a day because it had been unable to leave on schedule.
Akram said the vessel should now be able to leave by Saturday night.
Temporary port labourers at Hambantota port have been striking since Tuesday demanding that they be taken on as permanent employees of the state-owned Sri Lanka Port Authority, according to local officials.
Opposition legislators told parliament Saturday that eight workers were wounded when the navy stormed the main pier, but the government denied there were casualties.
The government is in talks with a Chinese company to sell an 80 percent stake in the loss-making $1.3 billion Hambantota port.