China's second-biggest container shipping company has shocked maritime experts by provisionally scheduling a July call at the port of Nansha in a move which would be the facility's first visit from a vessel on the deep-sea trades. China Shipping Container Lines (CSCL), the box shipping arm of state-owned China Shipping Group, this week inked in Nansha as its fifth mainland port of call on the westbound leg of a service linking Asia and Europe. The provisional schedule, earmarked for its 'AEX 3' service and distributed by CSCL executives to sales agents, has the loop beginning from Shanghai in late June and using 5,600-teu (20-ft equivalent units) capacity vessels. The plans, which would require at least 12 metres of water for safe passage of the vessels up the depth-constrained Pearl River, were met with incredulity from several trade executives yesterday. 'A ship of that size cannot be handled at Nansha,' a Hong Kong-based executive from a European shipping company said. 'There are some opportunities for bulk and [roll-on, roll-off] cargo. But not deep-sea container ships, and certainly not ones that size.' One Hong Kong port executive called the plan 'wishful thinking'. According to Guangzhou's grand design for Nansha, the facility is to eventually have '50 berths' capable of handling 50,000-deadweight tonne (dwt) deep-sea vessels. A 5,600-teu vessel weighs about 70,000 dwt, meaning dredging of the access channel to Nansha, which in some places offers as little as nine metres of water, would be critical to the service's viability. The Guangzhou government eventually plans to dredge the 115km access channel to 13.5 metres but officials admit that process has yet to begin. As a cargo origin port rather than a cargo destination port, Nansha will gain some relief from its water constraints for the comparatively lighter mainland exports. But officials at the Nansha Port Command Office threw doubt on the proposed timing of the service's launch this week, saying the container port 'will be operational in the third quarter'. A Shanghai-based CSCL executive said the plans, while distributed to agents to start selling space, should be considered 'very provisional'. 'We have to draft routing plans for the year but some will change,' he said. 'We have to see whether the infrastructure is in place and whether the access channel is ready. It really depends how the project goes.'