The management of the loss-making River Trade Terminal (RTT) told the High Court yesterday that it was 'commercially impossible' to comply with the government's interpretation of its land grant. RTT general manager John Wan Hak-chung said in his affidavit the government's interpretation of the 1996 land grant would unduly burden the company to discern cargo origins and the previous ports of call of any vessel it served. The secretary for justice has taken the RTT to court for berthing ocean-going vessels at its wharves, an act the director of lands has insisted, since October 1999, is against the conditions of the facility's land lease. The RTT handled about 200,000 teu (20ft equivalent units) of the contested cargo last year, business which would have generated about $60 million in sales for the perennially loss-making facility. The dispute was yesterday largely distilled down to the interpretation of a special condition within the land grant, which says the RTT's infrastructure 'shall not be used for any purpose other than as a terminal for the berthing of vessels regularly employed in trading or going within the Pearl River region and vessels trading solely within Hong Kong waters'. The government, represented by barrister Benjamin Yu, SC, feels the language 'regularly trading and going within' denoted 'travel between two ports' in the Pearl River and therefore precluded ocean-going vessels. However, in a brief summation at the end of the day, lead defence counsel David Thomas said Mr Yu was trying to redefine a perfectly clear contractual agreement. 'Defining any part of the language as meaning 'between two ports' forces upon the contract a meaning which it clearly does not have,' Mr Thomas said. Mr Yu said only vessels which traded 'regularly and habitually' within the ascribed geographical limits should qualify for RTT berthing. Presiding over the hearing, Mr Justice David Yam Yee-kwan said he felt the language allowed for some flexibility. He said it would be 'absurd' for 'regularly' to be so tightly defined as to disqualify a vessel from berthing at the RTT for one trip to, say, Fujian. Mr Yu said he found it strange the RTT's management was unable to comply with the government's interpretation of the land lease, given that it had not berthed an ocean-going vessel for the first two years of operation. '[The RTT] only had trouble complying once [the management] ran into financial difficulties,' he said. In 1999, Mr Wan projected the RTT would lose $550 million in its first 27 months of operation. The hearing continues today.