Shipping lines and terminal operators are divided over whether Hong Kong will need a tenth container terminal - known as CT10 for short - as manufacturing continues to migrate to China's inland provinces and emerging Asian economies, a conference heard this week.
Terminal capacity in southern China, excluding Hong Kong, is forecast to climb 56 per cent from 85 berths in 2010 to 133 berths by 2030 if all expansion projects come to fruition, delegates to the TOC Asia conference were told. This includes additional berths at Nansha on the western side of the Pearl River, Dachan Bay and Yantian in Shenzhen, and Gaolan near Zhuhai. Each berth will have a capacity to handle between 500,000 and 750,000 teu (20-foot equivalent units) a year.
Asked if a tenth terminal in Hong Kong was needed, Stephane Mazain, Asia vice-president for French container line CMA CGM, said: 'Yes, we want it. We need the terminal.'
Justifying a tenth terminal, he said congestion at the Kwai Tsing container port last year 'was really, really bad', although several measures including increased productivity had improved the situation.
Senior executives from Maersk and Mitsui OSK Lines warned last year that if congestion was not tackled it would deter lines from putting more activity in Hong Kong. Shipping lines saw containerised cargo shipments delayed significantly because of congestion, mainly at the barge and feeder vessel berthing facilities operated by Hongkong International Terminals.
Turning to the migration of cargo, Mazain said the carrier's Vietnam volumes had grown 29 per cent. 'Yes we do see a move to cheaper countries, but we don't see a decrease in volume in south China,' he added. Mazain said CMA CGM's imports in China had increased more than 30 per cent, while the carrier handled more cargo 'within 100 kilometres of Shunde than the whole of Vietnam'.
But Ken Chan Hang, deputy managing director at Cosco Pacific, the terminals subsidiary of China's largest shipping company, said there was no need for a tenth terminal. 'We operate in Hong Kong and we do have capacity,' he said.
Chan also pointed out that the challenge for Hong Kong's port was to have enough capacity to handle bigger vessels. 'If the port has the equipment and draft to service 18,000 teu container ships I think Hong Kong's capacity is sufficient for 10 years,' he said.
Chan said the pace of cargo migration to inland provinces and Asia 'was much slower than perceived'. But the trend should be watched in the medium and long term.
Benjamin Lai, managing director of Modern Terminals in Hong Kong, said: 'We want to maximise or optimise what we have got already.' He said there was backup land for container storage in Kwai Tsing that would improve container terminal capacity. Lai said that only when all this was terminal space and the land used would the port need a tenth terminal. He said last year's congestion was limited to one terminal operator.
Simon Su, director and chief economist at maritime consultancy firm BMT Asia Pacific, said 'port users would definitely like to have more terminals' because they would see lower tariffs.
'Terminal operators want to control expansion because they want to keep their profit margin,' Su said.