Maersk Hong Kong says it cannot see justification for paying a high premium for using the territory's port facilities when neighbouring ports charge much lower tariffs. Managing director Eivind Kolding said cost levels in Singapore, Kaohsiung in Taiwan, and Yantian in southern China were, in general, 60 per cent of Hong Kong's level, Kobe in Japan about 80 per cent and Malaysia's Port Klang just 40 per cent. He said although Hong Kong provided a good and efficient service, it was not significantly different from what shipping lines received in ports such as Singapore and Kaohsiung. Mr Kolding said the competitive advantage of maintaining a manufacturing base in southern China was still strong, and Hong Kong was likely to be the only port capable of handling large volumes for some time, even though its port handing costs might be high. Businesses would seek any opportunity to reduce costs and there would be pressure to substitute non-competitive services if there were viable alternatives, he said. Although alternatives were emerging, the Maersk executive said it would take some time before any alternative or accumulation of alternatives could provide capacity comparable to Hong Kong. Hong Kong's role as a hub port would decline unless cost levels were reduced to market levels, he said. Mr Kolding said any container shipped out of Yantian was a container which would have been shipped out of the territory if Yantian had not been developed. 'So the majority of customers we serve in Yantian have previously been served by us in Hong Kong,' he said. 'If you consider volume instead of individual customers you will, however, see that Yantian has only cut into part of the total market growth.' Yantian handles about 15 per cent of Maersk Hong Kong's total volumes of container throughput. An industry source said Yantian, which handled 65 per cent of the Shenzhen cargo market last year, was estimated to have handled about 380,000 teu (20 ft equivalent units) in 1996. Container throughput at Shenzhen ports - which include Shekou and Chiwan as well as Yantian - more than doubled last year to 589,000 teu, from 283,000 in 1995. Mr Kolding said cost was the major reason for customer preference for Yantian over Hong Kong, but said it would be wrong to label Yantian as a 'threat' to Hong Kong port operations. Some customers gained logistical advantages through using Yantian, he added. 'The most cost-efficient solution can only be made on a customer-through-customer analysis, considering the total cost of transportation and other relevant factors,' Mr Kolding said. Asked about Maersk's coverage this year, Mr Kolding said the carrier had or would include coverage of New Zealand, East Africa and the East Mediterranean, and was exploring other markets. Maersk's 1996 growth for export and import in Hong Kong was about 5 per cent. In southern China it was above 50 per cent. Mr Kolding said the carrier expected this year's growth to be about the same.