Chu Kong Air-Sea Union Transportation, a subsidiary of Chu Kong Shipping Enterprises, has beaten strong competition to secure a five-year licence to operate a 1.4-hectare marine-cargo terminal on the northeast corner of Chek Lap Kok airport island. Chu Kong will develop, operate and maintain the terminal to facilitate vessel services between the Pearl River basin and the airport, giving cargo consigners an alternative to road transport when exporting mainland goods. Airport Authority chief executive Billy Lam Chung-lun said yesterday: 'Water transport via the Pearl River Delta will be quicker and cheaper for many cargo operators.' In securing the licence, Chu Kong beat a consortium formed by China Travel International, Shun Tak Holdings and businessman Henry Fok Ying-tung. Mr Lam said the company secured the licence on the back of its established track record in river trade and its extensive coverage in the Pearl Delta. Chu Kong Shipping is controlled by Guangdong Province Navigation Holdings, which has the backing of the Guangdong provincial government. The company has about 400 vessels, with an annual cargo capacity of 4.5 million tonnes. Justin Cao, manager of development at Chu Kong Shipping, declined to specify what terms the company offered to win the licence. Mr Cao said the company would invest HK$45 million to build the terminal, which was expected to be operational early next year. The terminal will receive scheduled shipping services from at least 14 ports in the Pearl River basin, including some of the region's busiest ports such as Guangzhou and Zhongshan. Mainland goods delivered by water transport to the marine-cargo terminal will be transferred to the overseas exporting facility of the air-cargo terminal. The cost of transporting goods by the proposed water routes would be much lower than that of land routes, Mr Cao said. 'Taking delivery of 1,000 tonnes [of goods] as an example, water transport could be 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than land transport,' he said. The annual capacity of the marine-cargo terminal was expected to be about 300,000 tonnes, Mr Cao added. Mr Lam expects the terminal will help accelerate the growth of local air-cargo services. The Hong Kong International Airport handled about 2.14 million tonnes of air cargo in the 12 months to the end of June. The airport has the capacity to handle about three million tonnes. Mr Lam said the authority was working on a plan to increase the airport's cargo handling capacity to nine million tonnes. Asked if the project would be injected into the SAR-listed Chu Kong Shipping Development, Mr Cao said it was one possibility but declined to comment further.