In an attempt to regain the title of Japan's largest container port, Yokohama has cut port charges and eased weekend restrictions, according to a port bureau official. Toru Kazama, director of the Port and Harbour Bureau planning and promotion division, said the bureau had halved handling charges for cargo volumes of 1,500 teu (20 ft equivalent units) or more per vessel and cut by 30 per cent charges for volumes of between 1,000 and 1,499 teu. 'Ships will also be allowed to berth free of charge on Sundays to position themselves for stevedoring in an effort to reduce congestion on Mondays,' he said. These measures were the first step towards eventually opening the container terminals 24 hours a day, all year. Port dues and dockage fees would be waived when the first vessel of a newly established liner route visited the port, Mr Kazama said. Effective this month, compulsory pilotage would be needed only for vessels of more than 3,000 gross tonnes, he said. For the benefit of Japan's big ports, including Yokohama, the Ministry of Transport planned to introduce an electronic data interchange system for port affairs, Mr Kazama said. 'The ministry plans to create a network with this system and the present customs clearance information processing system,' he said. When implemented, all ports would have an advanced IT capability, he said. Mr Kazama said cargo volumes had stalled due to Asia's economic crisis. This, coupled with competition between domestic and foreign ports, had created a difficult business environment. 'Despite this, the port of Yokohama is leading the way for other Japanese ports with its promotion of a user-friendly port concept,' he said, adding the port had been learning how to operate on an international scale and to develop logistics facilities. 'In the future, we will take advanced measures to develop the most from our assets,' he said. The port planned to build 12 berths with a water depth of 15 to 16 metres. This involved reconstructing Honmoku pier and improving existing quays to service bigger vessels. The next addition to Yokohama port will be the Minami Honmoku container pier, which is now being built. It will offer four high-standard container terminals, each with a water depth of 14 to 16 metres. The port has so far reclaimed 90 hectares of a planned 217-hectare site. Honmoku pier has 14 container berths and 17 berths that handle conventional cargo. Work is under way on reclaiming the area between jetties B and C and building a 15-metre water depth multi-user container terminal, to be completed in 2003. The port lowered dockage charges in May 1997. Last year, Yokohama handled 2.09 million teu, down 10 per cent from the previous year's 2.33 million teu. It blamed the decline on 'the delay in construction of advanced facilities, inefficient working hours and the high-cost structure of port logistics at our country's ports and harbours'.