Hong Kong's shipping industry plans to take steps to become more competitive to enhance its position as an international centre for the region. At its inaugural meeting, the shipping committee yesterday said it would undertake a detailed review of the industry aimed at identifying its potential and building on Hong Kong's strong reputation. The committee was set up earlier this year - under the control of the reorganised Hong Kong Port and Maritime Board - in response to the Asian economic crisis which is expected to lower growth this year at Kwai Chung Port to 5 per cent - equivalent to 14.5 million teu (20-foot equivalent units). Two years ago it enjoyed up to 20 per cent annual growth. The committee said it would urgently look at enhancing competitiveness of the port through shipping taxation, manpower training, international promotion and research and information gathering. Hong Kong controls 6 per cent of the world's merchant ships, ranking it in the top five merchant navies in the world. More than 70 shipping companies in Hong Kong own and manage in excess of 1,200 vessels with a gross tonnage of 31 million tonnes. In excess of 480 ships carrying more than six million gross tonnes are registered with the autonomous Hong Kong Shipping Register, which was set up in 1990.