Maritime bureau aims to shore up Hong Kong's role as shipping hub
New government maritime department will provide one-stop shop focusing on shipping services in order to compete with Singapore
The Hong Kong government plans to set up an inter-departmental body to provide a one-stop shop for the maritime sector, which has steadily lost ground to Singapore as a maritime hub over the past few years.
The new maritime bureau is expected to include port development but the priority will be on promoting shipping services, such as ship management as well as brokerage, finance and insurance services.
"What we should do now is to upgrade Hong Kong to be on par with London as an international shipping service hub," lawmaker Miriam Lau Kin-yee said.
"Let's forget about attracting more containers to go through Hong Kong" especially since Shenzhen had already overtaken the city as the third-busiest port in the world last year, Lau said.
The Hong Kong government has long been criticised as inefficient in promoting the maritime industry.
More shipowners were leaving Hong Kong for Singapore because of lower taxes and ease of operations in the city state, a ship manager said.
"In Singapore, if you talk to the Maritime Port Authority, they will coordinate everything you need in various departments, [be it] tax or immigration," said Peter Cremers, the chief executive of Hong Kong-based ship manager Anglo-Eastern Group, which manages 450 vessels globally.
"Hong Kong is different. Unless the shipowner knows what the tax [requirements are] for shipping, you may get into the wrong hands."
Sabrina Chao Sih-ming, the chairman of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport, praised Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's decision to set up a statutory maritime body in his policy address last month.
Chao is a member of Hong Kong's advisory Maritime Industry Committee.
Instead of cutting taxes, Chao said the group was pressing for the government to have double tax avoidance treaties signed with South Africa and Australia, countries which conduct a lot of shipping business with Hong Kong.
"The new bureau needs to be run by an industry veteran who knows the industry from inside out," she said. "It's not too late if we can act and catch up now."
Others, though, feel that the opportunity for Hong Kong to boost its status as a maritime hub is long gone.
"Hong Kong is lagging behind Singapore for ship brokerage as most of the ship brokers [have been] based in Singapore for quite a long time," said Geoffrey Cheng, the head of transport at Bocom International.
Cheng said the cluster effect on information flow in Singapore was so strong that Hong Kong found it hard to compete against its rival.