HK to keep top container spot

The pre-eminent position of Hong Kong as the world's top container port will not be affected by the partnership between the Port of Singapore and the Global Alliance, according to the two biggest container terminal operators in Kwai Chung.

Modern Terminals (MTL) said it was not unusual for shipping consortiums and big shipping lines to strike long-term partnerships with ports or huge terminals. 'We have such partnerships with giant shipping lines as Maersk, for instance,' Mike Trueman, MTL corporate communications manager, said. Besides, the Singapore port is in direct competition with emerging hubs in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

The Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) said Singapore served a different market.

'It's a transshipment hub for Southeast Asia. At any rate, we have a long-term partnership with a shipping consortium, to cite an example,' Nora Yong, corporate communications manager of Hutchison International Port Holdings, said.

The Singapore port, seeking to protect its position as a regional transshipment hub in the face of rising competition, forged a 10-year partnership on Monday with the shipping consortium.

The Global Alliance, grouping American President Lines (APL), Mitsui OSK Lines, Nedlloyd Lines, and Orient Overseas Container Line, would enjoy the benefits of a dedicated terminal, price stability and cost effectiveness under the agreement, port officials said.

Many global shipping lines have been realigning themselves into consortiums this year, seeking greater control over operations at their ports of call to control their costs and secure better port services, officials said.

The Port of Singapore Authority's (PSA) 'Virtual Terminal' innovation seeks to meet the requirements of such consortiums while the authority attempts to ward off competition from emerging ports in Southeast Asian.

Singapore's Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan said the agreement marked a 'major milestone in PSA's strategic partnership with the shipping lines.

'The PSA will customise its services and facilities to meet the needs of the consortiums in a long-term contract. The shipping lines are assured of price certainty for the services which they require.

'They will have as much control as they would have enjoyed at a dedicated terminal, with a team of managers, ship planners and yard planners, solely dedicated to their terminal.' Ships would be berthed on arrival, saving waiting time at the anchorages.

Singapore is the busiest port in the world in terms of shipping tonnage, with more than 800 vessels in port at any one time.

Last year 104,014 vessels came calling at the port, the focal point for more than 400 shipping lines with links to more than 600 ports.

It is the world's second-busiest port after Hong Kong for container traffic, handling 11.85 million teu (20-foot equivalent units) in 1995.

But neighbours such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are now competing to develop transshipment ports to reduce their dependence on Singapore.

This year the PSA will boost capital spending three times to S$1.12 billion (about HK$6.11 billion) to sharpen its own competitive edge.

Tim Rhein, APL's president and chief executive officer, said the long-term pact symbolised the commitment of Global Alliance members to 'the future of this great port'.