Hong Kong and other Asian ports are falling behind European port operators in terms of productivity, a senior shipping executive has warned.
Nicolas Sartini, group senior vice-president of Asia-Europe lines at French container line CMA CGM, said some European ports were 50 per cent more efficient at loading and unloading containers than those in Asia.
Sartini, who was in Hong Kong for the maiden call of the world's largest container ship, CMA CGM Marco Polo, said some Asian ports needed to "wake up and catch up with Europe".
Speaking on the bridge of the 16,020-teu (20-foot equivalent unit) ship, Sartini said Europe had traditionally been behind Asia in several areas, but he added: "Today, we get better productivity in Europe than Asia."
He explained that two European ports, Le Havre, where the line has its own terminal, and Hamburg, were capable of 150 container moves an hour whereas some Asian ports could only achieve 100 moves an hour.
A 2006 port benchmarking report by the Marine Department showed that in Hong Kong the number of boxes loaded and unloaded by a single crane averaged 36 moves per hour, with a peak rate of 40 per hour.
An October 2010 report by Dr Chen Tao, head of the Department of Logistics and Shipping Management at Taiwan's Kainan University, showed Hong Kong's quay efficiency was 140 box moves per hour. While the number of box moves was ahead of Shanghai and Ningbo, Hong Kong was behind Yantian and Qingdao.
Academics specialising in logistics that were quoted in the Chen study identified 13 factors that influenced terminal efficiency. These included terminal and ship size, the number of boxes being loaded and unloaded and the amount of cranes and other equipment deployed to support cargo operations and terminal management.
Sartini said there was a "big difference" in berth productivity between Asian and European ports. "We have to wake them up," he said of the Asian ports.
But Dr Jonathan Beard, executive director of global transport and port consultant ICF GHK, said: "The moves per hour is dependent on many factors, most notably the number of moves per crane per hour and the number of cranes deployed on each vessel. The moves per crane per hour in Le Havre and Hamburg are no higher than the best-performing terminals in Asia and in many cases I'd argue they are still lower, especially over extended periods.
"Of course, shipping lines will always push for more cranes to be thrown at their vessels … especially as vessel sizes increase, but this is a balancing act for the terminal operators."
Eric Ip, group deputy managing director of Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH), was unperturbed by Sartini's comments. HPH, through Hongkong International Terminal, handles CMA CGM vessels in Hong Kong and deployed six massive cranes alongside CMA CGM Marco Polo to load and unload containers. These cranes had the capability to handle a total of 240 boxes an hour, while the ship spent less than 24 hours in the city before departing for Chiwan at 6am yesterday.