Rival sees Shanghai port as busiest
Keith Wallis in Singapore
Singapore has admitted Shanghai could leapfrog the city state as the world's busiest container port this year, buoyed by China's strong trade growth.
Teo Chee Hean, Singapore's deputy prime minister and defence minister, said: 'Many Asian ports like Shanghai are consequently enjoying strong growth. Fuelled by China's burgeoning domestic economy and strong export competitiveness, we will not be surprised if Shanghai overtakes us as the world's busiest container port this year.'
Container volumes through Shanghai climbed to 19.06 million teu (20-foot equivalent units) in the first eight months of this year.
Singapore by comparison saw a 13 per cent increase in box volumes to 19.01 million teu. Based on box volumes so far this year and a strong 21 per cent rise in container throughput in August, Shanghai is on course to handle around 31 million teu this year.
Singapore is likely to handle about 30 million teu.
Shenzhen is also set to overtake Hong Kong as the world's third-busiest box port after strong growth in box volumes in the first eight months of this year. Port watchers forecast that Shenzhen could handle about 28 million teu this year compared with Hong Kong's full-year total of about 24 million teu.
'If the massive 20-plus-percentage increase in container volumes seen at Shenzhen over the past couple of months continues for the rest of this year, then it's conceivable Shenzhen might even overtake Singapore to take second place. It's an outside chance, but it's there,' one industry source said.
Despite the prospect of Singapore losing the top spot, Teo said the city, as a key transshipment hub, would still benefit from China's trade growth. 'Singapore stands to benefit from Asia's progress in general and China's growth in particular. I am therefore confident that the Singapore port will continue to remain the linchpin for Singapore's development as a leading international maritime centre in the world,' he said, speaking at the Singapore Shipping Association's 25th anniversary dinner on Thursday night.
As part of the government's continued support of the maritime industry, Teo announced plans to spend up to S$200 million (HK$1.18 billion) over the next 10 years to set up a maritime institute. The initial cash will come from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, buoyed by extra co-funding from other government-backed bodies.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University's maritime library and research and development centre was named after shipping stalwart Frank Tsao Wen-king last year after Tsao gave HK$10 million for training and research. Tsao is head of the IMC shipping, shipbuilding and logistics group, and also helped launch the Malaysian shipping company MISC.
Turning to the outlook for the shipping industry, Teo said concerns remained even though the sector's future seemed promising.
'How Europe's debt troubles and unemployment in the United States will pan out are critical uncertainties. Within the shipping industry, oversupply issues with container ships will be with us for a while,' Teo said. Teo Siong Seng, president of the Singapore Shipping Association, agreed and added that piracy was a 'real and serious threat; not only to the safety of our ships and the environment, but also the lives of our seafarers'.
Teo Siong Seng also warned against regional legislation that threatened shipping. He said that with more than 90 per cent of cargo moved by sea, 'the industry cannot support any unilateral or regional legislation that might hinder the flow of trade or create unfair trading conditions'. The remark was seen as a reference to calls by the Asian Shippers' Council, which represents cargo owners, for government action to end the cartel among shipping lines, which controls 85 per cent of the cargo on transpacific trades.
Shanghai is projected to handle 31 million teu this year
The city's container throughput in August rose by: 21%