River cargo trade is expected to rise 20 per cent with the introduction of a multiple-entry permit scheme that will halve the entry fees for inshore cargo vessels, officials said. The fee cut, part of a new shipping law being gazetted tomorrow, will cost the government HK$35 million a year but the industry says benefits to the logistics industry will be far greater. Marine Department statistics show total transshipment cargo throughput amounted to 7.9 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) by the third quarter of 2006, a surge of 5.5 per cent over the same period last year. The chief executive of the Hong Kong Mid-stream Operators Association, Wong Miu-sang, said based on the figure and a handling charge of US$100 to US$150 for every container, a 20 per cent increase in trade would bring the industry an extra US$15.9 million at least in the coming nine months. The new merchant shipping law, which not only reduces entry fees for non-conventional vessels but also updates safety and pollution requirements of vessels entering Hong Kong waters, has taken more than 10 years from drafting to completion. The industry in general has welcomed its implementation but says some of the new provisions will inevitably add to its costs, one of which is compulsory third party insurance, which will now be extended to all local and river trade vessels. Another includes the requirement for at least one crew member to have undergone proper training and to be qualified to supervise all work on board ship. Danny Hu Jun, managing director of the largest vessel cargo handler in Guangzhou, Chu Kong Air-sea Union Transportation, said the extra requirements had some effect on costs. 'It would be a lie to say that it posed no influence at all, but the cut in entry fee can offset the rise of our costs,' he said. Operations general manager of the Marine Department Ng Kin-man said the new policy would attract 20 per cent more river cargo vessels to local waters. 'A vast majority of the transportation agents in Guangdong, which make up 90 per cent of the river cargo volume to Hong Kong, have already signed up to a collective insurance fund pool which requires little in contributions per head. I am sure not many vessels will be turned away for not being able to satisfy the new criteria,' he said. The department's deputy director, Lee Wai-kuen, said the new law had also clarified the standards on pollution. He said the old law did not specify any particular requirements on pollution but since last May all vessels under 400 tonnes had had to comply with a standard equivalent to the Euro III requirement for buses. Mr Lee said the department was drafting another law to regulate emission of pollutants by ocean cruisers.