Handling capacity at Kwai Chung container port will rise by 2.6 million teus (20 foot equivalent units) to a more optimal level of 14.1 million teus through the Container Terminal 9 (CT9) project, according to container port operators. The six berths to be added through the HK$10 billion project would become operational in phases between May 2002 and late 2004, they said. Erik Christensen, managing director at Modern Terminals, one of three developers of CT9, said the extra capacity would come at an appropriate time. Two years ago, when throughput was hit by Asia financial turmoil, port operators were worried the new facility would dampen business sentiment, as an increase in capacity could drive down tariffs further in a sluggish export environment. However, mainland exports have picked up strongly since last year, and Hong Kong was expected to have substantial throughput growth in the coming years, Mr Christensen said. Last year, Kwai Chung container port's throughput grew 7.74 per cent from a year earlier to 10.3 million teu. In the same period, throughput at Hong Kong port rose 10.96 per cent to 16.2 million teu. Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said yesterday at a ground-breaking ceremony for CT9 that container throughput at Hong Kong port was expected to exceed the 20 million teu mark when the new facility was fully operational. David Holmes, project manager of CT9, said terminal operators estimated the new terminal would handle a much higher volume than its design capacity through productivity and efficiency measures. At present, Container Terminal handles one million teus a year.