The berths at Container Terminal 9 (CT9), now under construction, will be needed to meet forecast demand, the Hong Kong Port and Maritime Board says. 'Our forecast is that there will be sufficient demand when the first berth of CT9 comes on stream in 2002,' board deputy secretary Roger Tupper said. There is increasing concern in the industry that CT9 will burden Hong Kong port with additional capacity at a time when its growth is slowing. Kwai Chung terminal operators have improved productivity, efficiency and capacity through hi-tech investment in the past few years. Hong Kong port was still growing, although at a slower pace, Mr Tupper said. Last year, a consortium comprising Modern Terminals (MTL), Hutchison Whampoa's Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) and Asia Container Terminal (ACT) signed a contract to build and operate CT9. It will have six berths and capacity to handle 2.6 million teus (20 ft equivalent units) a year. HIT will get the first and sixth berths, while MTL will get berths two to five, swapping two slots at CT8 West for ACT's two facilities at CT8. The consortium's investment in the CT9 project includes a $387.5 million land premium, which will be split by the members, and $2.6 billion for contingent works. A further $1.85 billion, marked for other infrastructure, will be reimbursed by the Government. Construction cost of CT9, including reclamation, quayside work, interest paid and money to the Government, will total about $7 billion. ACT will bear 40 per cent of the construction costs, while MTL and HIT will handle the remaining 60 per cent. Asked about competition from Shenzhen port - Yantian, Shekou and Chiwan - Mr Tupper said there was obviously spare capacity in Shenzhen, which was recording container throughput from a low base. Last year, Shenzhen port recorded an 800,000-teu increase over 1997 figures while Hong Kong port recorded an increase of 100,000 teus. 'Obviously, they [Shenzhen ports] have done well in 1998, and this is continuing into this year, judging by recent figures,' Mr Tupper said. When Yantian port started in 1994, it had a couple of berths and did not have any growth until 1995. Shekou port's operations also did not get off the ground until after a couple of years of slow growth. During this period, all cargo went through Hong Kong port. Shipping lines were cautious about establishing direct calls at Shenzhen port until last year. Although Shenzhen port is expected to record an increase in container throughput this year, the factors which caused the growth last year are not expected to come into play again. 'One could expect the growth for [Shenzhen port] this year would not be as substantial as in 1998,' Mr Tupper said. Kwai Chung port recorded 1.3 per cent growth in the first quarter this year. Board figures show Kwai Chung terminals handled 811,249 teus in January, a rise of 2.8 per cent against the same month last year. Throughput rose in February, by 6.2 per cent to 649,015 teu, but fell 3.9 per cent to 786,281 teu in March. Exporters said container throughput for April was likely to be up as many shippers had tried to export as much cargo as possible to beat freight-rate increases on May 1. Mr Tupper said that looking at the markets Hong Kong was serving, there should be a slight overall improvement in economies and trade flows. The second half of the year should be more positive.