EXTENDING container holding space is a top priority for Kwai Chung port operators, says John Meredith, Hong Kong International Terminal Group's (HIT) managing director. Finding extra land for storage was even more important than clinching a deal for Container Terminal Nine (CT9), he said. However, the smooth running of the port would be in serious jeopardy in five years if both problems were not solved in the near future, he said. Although the port's berthing facilities coped with an annual 17 per cent increase in throughput and had not reached saturation point, holding facilities were stretched to the limit, Mr Meredith said. Growth forecasts showed another container terminal would be needed by 1999, but additional holding land was needed now. 'The real problem is the lack of land for unloading containers from trucks and ships,' he said. 'Trucks often have to queue while space for freight is being found and this clogs the roads and traffic flow around the port. 'We have enough terminals to cope with berthing demand, but our storage space does not match our berthing capacity. 'The problems could get worse in five years if berthing space does not improve because planned terminals are not built.' Political wrangling over awarding a contract for CT9 had not bothered the port's operations, he said. However, traffic snarls along Kwai Chung Port Road would get worse if a new terminal was not built and more land allocated for storage. The local community and the port's image were suffering because the Government would not allocate operators land adjacent to the port for storing and unloading containers, he said. With more than 10,000 trucks from China bringing freight to the port daily and the Lok Mah Chau border crossing open for 24-hour container business, traffic congestion in the area would continue to increase, he said. Almost 70 per cent of the port's container traffic was trucks from China and the new 24-hour border operation would reduce waiting time. Mr Meredith said HIT, one of two port operators at Kwai Chung, had 60 per cent of the freight market and operated 10 berths. With more holding area, HIT would be able to process a further one million containers a year. However, the company's revenue and throughput at the port had not yet suffered. 'Shippers have no alternative but to use the port's facilities. We only want the extra land to ease traffic congestion in and around the port.' With additional land, the port could cope with increases in traffic until 1999, even if CT9 was never built, he said. However, Mr Meredith said it would take five years to construct the new terminal and, if development did not start soon, growth in future throughput would be stifled. 'But if CT9 does not go ahead, presumably the Government would sort out terminal 10 on Lantau island, which would then replace terminal nine. 'We are still interested in T9 and would like to go ahead with the development as soon as the politics are sorted out.' Opening Container Terminal Eight last June boosted the port's handling capacity by 1.8 million 20-foot-equivalent units (teus) annually. Two berths at CT8 also eased road snarls around the port as trucks did not have to wait as long to load and unload, Mr Meredith said. 'There has not been major operational problems and we have not had to close the port because of a typhoon,' he said. 'But, unless we get additional land now and start constructing a second processing facility, there will be problems if a typhoon hits next season. 'The land is being held for parking space for trucks but we are the only company that will make efficient and maximum use of the space.' Modern Terminals, which operates four berths at the port, would receive a slice of the Crown land if the Government allocated it for container handling, he said. However, Mr Meredith said he believed the Government would carve up the land, allocating portions for a railway terminus, parking for trucks and to the two port operators. 'Even if we do not get exactly what we want, we need land now,' he said. 'Because it is taking so long for a decision, we are no closer to solving potential traffic and throughput problems.' While the company remained committed to the Hong Kong port, it had branched out to open three deep-water ports and feeder services in China's Pearl River Delta. Yantian, Jiuzhou and Gaolan ports, along with the smaller delta ports Nanhai and Shantou, fed containers into Hong Kong and in the future would provide invaluable links with China markets.