Hong Kong's second largest terminal operator, Modern Terminals (MTL), is gearing up to handle about 5 per cent growth this year in anticipation of new business from the reshuffle of the Global and Grand alliances. MTL, which has a three million teu (20 ft equivalent units) capacity, expects to fill two-thirds of its capacity this year with existing business, the balance coming from new business from the alliances. MTL senior general manager Michael Sandpearl said: 'MTL is at the moment working hard with existing customers to understand the changes in the alliances and mergers.' It was difficult to make any real commitment without knowing for sure what was going to happen, he said. Mr Sandpearl said MTL did not experience growth last year, but achieved its set targets. The terminal operator's results were affected by the departure of Hyundai from its berths last year. 'More business is not coming to Hong Kong,' Mr Sandpearl said, referring to the Shenzhen port's forecast that it would hit one million teu this year. In 1996, Shenzhen ports - grouping Yantian, Chiwan and Shekou ports, which together make up the fourth largest container port in China - handled 588,000 teu, which was up 107 per cent over 1995. Mr Sandpearl said this meant that Shenzhen ports would take another 400,000 teu away from Hong Kong this year. He said it was too early to say whether the Hong Kong port's growth forecast of 6-7 per cent could be achieved this year. Mr Sandpearl said MTL recognised the competitive pressures and had kept its shore charges at 1996 rates - the first time the firm had done so. 'This is our gesture to shipping lines to try to help them,' he said, adding that pressure on rates would continue. MTL's strategy was to provide competitive rates for customers and to ensure good returns for its shareholders, he added. On Container Terminal 9 negotiations between MTL, Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) and the Government, Mr Sandpearl said the talks were progressing slowly. Documents were expected to be signed at the end of the year, and work on the terminal to start next year. The first berth of CT9 would be built on time by 2000, Mr Sandpearl said. Separately, MTL has completed its two-year Operations Mode Change project at Terminals 1, 2 and 5 - two months ahead of schedule. The mode of operations at the terminals has been changed from straddle carriers to rubber-tyred gantries, giving MTL an additional 240,000-teu handling capacity a year - 16 per cent more than the previous capacity. MTL managing director Mark Leese said the project was completed within budget. The original estimate was $750 million and the final cost $655 million.