A tiny bit of Portugal-in-China best known for its casinos is now gambling on a new industry - container shipping - backed by one of Hong Kong's carriers.
Macao, 40 miles or 50 minutes by jetfoil west of here, is the six-square- mile home of perhaps 400,000 people. It's been a sleepy place other than for gamblers, with little in the way of industry with the exception of low-end textiles.The Portuguese administration seems intent on changing that. Plans are in hand for an international-class airport and its own airline, and its first container terminal opened this month.
Ka Ho Macaoport on Coloane Island will be used for feeder ships serving Hong Kong and, in time, Zhuhai. The latter is a Chinese special economic zone just north of Macao.
The first ship was the 3,000-ton Macao Venture, moving at a leisurely 8 knots and with capacity equivalent to 200 20-foot containers, known in the trade as TEUs. The ship takes four hours to make the trip.
Macao has relied until now on outdated, and frequently overcrowded, conventional facilities in its inner harbor.
Capacity in the new terminal is 1,300 TEUs in the yard and monthly volume of between 5,000 and 10,000 TEUs. Initial equipment includes a 40-ton mobile crane, two stackers with 38-ton ratings, six forklifts, four tractors and a dozen chassis for 20-foot and 40-foot boxes.
The project, which cost around HK$200 million (US$25 million), was begun in 1988 and suffered several delays. It should have opened in September, was put back until October and finally materialized in December.
Chairman of the terminal project is George Chao, managing director of Wah Kwong Shipping Holdings Ltd. of Hong Kong. His firm and the company that holds Macao's gaming licenses, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes Macau, together have 45 percent.
Other chief shareholders are the Macao administration, 30 percent, and, with 12 percent through Nam Kwong Commercial & Industrial Ltd. Beijing, the Chinese government, which gave the project its full backing and regains sovereignty over Macao in 1999, two years after it reclaims Hong Kong.
It's not yet clear how attractive the new terminal will be, despite Mr. Chao's pledge of "much better warehouse conditions (but) the same handling charges" as in the inner harbor. In fact, containers are being charged US$256 per TEU at the outset, rather less than in the inner harbor.
Ka Ho is four miles from the Macao peninsula proper, linked by a 1.5-mile, two-lane bridge and a slightly shorter two-lane causeway. Even with the promise of better facilities, some exporters are already grumbling about the potential for transport bottlenecks.
Mr. Chao says plans are in hand to widen the existing bridges. A four-lane second bridge is proposed by the government for 1993.
Ka Ho is described as deep water, but the draft is between 13 and 18 feet and the harbor must be dredged every year. This limits the size of ship that can use the terminal, which has a 500-foot frontage.
Box traffic through Macao is growing, much of it originating in the Zhuhai special economic zone. Volume last year was just over 60,000 TEUs, according to official figures, up from 49,000 in 1989 and 47,000 in 1988.