What Hong Kong port should do next after hitting a milestone

November 02, 2015 15:28
Hong Kong has maintained its position as the world’s fourth busiest port by throughput, outperforming other much larger ports. Photo: CNSA

With the rapid diversification of Hong Kong’s economy in recent years, it is often easy to forget that we owe a great deal of our rise as an economic powerhouse to the container port industry.

This was once again underlined when Hong Kong terminal operators under Hutchison Port Holdings Trust -- HIT, COSCO-HIT, Asia Container Terminals -- and various midstream services achieved 200 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) on the heels of HIT’s 45th anniversary.

The new milestone not only puts HIT and HPH Trust at the forefront of the global container port market but also highlights the industry’s continuing economic contribution to Hong Kong and its vital role in providing a steady source of quality employment.

Despite stiff competition from other ports in the region and a marked slowdown in trade and economic growth, Hong Kong has maintained its position as the world’s fourth busiest port by throughput, outperforming other much larger ports.

We make up for our lack of size with a deeper port, which enables us to capitalise on the increasing reliance of shipping lines on mega vessels.

Besides its geographic advantage, Hong Kong also has the edge in workers, renowned for their adaptability and can-do attitude.

Their efficiency enables us to offer carriers abundant choices of sailing schedules and prompt departures.

HIT is scaling up its handling capacity with ongoing investment in state-of-the-art infrastructure.

These include remote-control operations for rubber-tired gantry cranes and rail-mounted gantry cranes, the first barge quay cranes in south China to replace jib cranes and a crane electrification program to phase out diesel-powered equipment.

Also, HIT has committed HK$1.8 billion (US$232.25 million) to an equipment investment plan to ensure its long-term development.

In addition to investing in infrastructure development, HIT is ramping up training and improving its operational standards.

The initiative includes opening the Port Engineering Academy to train young engineering staff, partnering with tertiary institutions to nurture talent for the logistics industry, becoming a signatory to the Occupational Safety Charter, collaborating with Polytechnic University to develop exercises for crane operators and presenting a wide range of engagement programs for staff, workers and their families.

A sharp rise in transshipment volume has been a boon to Hong Kong as a free port under China's cabotage rules.

Such transshipments, which often come in the form of barge traffic, have made Hong Kong a port of choice for international shipping lines.

The status quo must be maintained if Hong Kong is to retain its competitive advantage over other regional ports.

While the industry has navigated various challenges over the years to achieve the recent milestone by terminals under HPH Trust, it cannot afford to rest on its laurels.

The shift in traffic toward mega vessels and transshipment has exposed critical weaknesses, namely our lack of barge berths and yard space.

It threatens to put Hong Kong in a competitive disadvantage against other regional ports, which often have ample space for cargo handling or expansion.

The government’s recent decision to integrate adjacent land into the existing terminals is a welcome move. Now all it needs to do is speed up the process.

It will not only support port operations and enhance our handling efficiency but also position us well for future growth, thereby helping ensure our bustling port will continue to be a shining symbol of the dynamism of Hong Kong and its people.

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Chief Executive Officer of Hutchison Port Holdings Trust