A raft of issues ranging from a lack of government support to a lack of facilities and new height restrictions in Kwai Chung are eroding Hong Kong’s competitiveness as a top global port, a leading terminal executive has said. Alan Lee Yiu-kwong, head of the Hong Kong Container Terminal Operators Association, outlined seven factors that not only hindered development of the port but were responsible for Hong Kong losing ground to neighboring Shenzhen.

Hong Kong is likely be overtaken this year by Shenzhen as the world’s third-busiest container port. Estimates indicate Hong Kong will handle 23.2 million TEU (20-foot equivalent units) compared with Shenzhen, which is set to handle 25 million TEU.

“We are losing competitiveness because of the seven issues I mentioned,” said Lee, who represents the five terminal operators at Kwai Chung port, including Hong Kong International Terminals, DP World and Modern Terminals. Explaining the problems, Lee said there was a shortage of back-up land and berths for barges, which caused congestion and disrupted port operations last year.

These shortages are exacerbated by new height restrictions in Kwai Chung that prevent terminal operators from developing the existing container yards, either by building over the yards or clearing the yards of containers to build new logistics facilities. The restrictions are contained in amendments to the draft Kwai Chung outline zoning plan which were hotly contested in a Town Planning Board meeting on October 12, although the board rejected making any change to the amendments.

Lee said the government’s failure to implement any of the recommendations outlined in the 2020 port master plan that was completed in 2004 was also a part of the problem.

The plan included five initiatives to improve port-operating efficiencies and cross-border connectivity. Lee said the government “is now talking about a 2030 master plan. I ask the question, will this be useful when the 2020 plan is in the rubbish can?”

Shanghai is still ahead of Singapore for top spot in the world – by some half a million boxes in the first three quarters – 24.2 million TEU versus 23.7 million.

Hong Kong volumes dropped 3.9% in the first nine months, making it the worst performer in the list, while nearby Shenzhen has seen growth of 3.1%. Also of note is the rapid rise of Yingkou, which on the basis of the first nine months of this year, has crept into the top 25. Chinese ports account for 11 of the top 25 ports in the world with Dalian the strongest grower, clocking a whopping 26.2% growth to jump to number 17 in the rankings.

Sources: South China Morning Post Nov 2012 & MarineLink Nov 2012

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