A new container freight station for dangerous goods will open here next month, making Singapore the first port in Southeast Asia with such a facility.

Officials at the Port of Singapore Authority say the S$5 million (US$2.5 million) station will save costs and time for shippers and shipowners and is so safe it is located near residential areas.As a hub port, Singapore cannot pick and choose cargo, Deputy Director Ng Chee Keong said Tuesday.

The warehouse - which has been sought by industry for some time - covers nearly 50,000 square feet. It will increase the types of dangerous goods that can be transshipped to 539 from 323 at present.

Singapore handles about 76,000 20 foot-equivalent units of so-called DG cargoes a year, a figure expected to rise with increased overall cargo movement.

Under the current system, cargoes must be trucked to one of four customs- approved warehouses to be unpacked for domestic consumption or transshipment. Agents are also required to have in hand import permits before they can open such boxes.

John Yan, a spokesman for the Singapore National Shippers' Association, says the new facility will obviate the need to chase consignees for permits. This could save as much as US$150 to US$175 in costs for each 20-foot container, he believes.

To minimize risks in handling the cargo, the warehouse will have equipment to detect gas and contain damage in the event of accidents.

Goods are segregated by fire-resistant concrete walls. Flammable liquids are further separated into smaller compartments to reduce the quantity stored in each.

Mechanical ventilation will prevent accumulation of flammable gases, officials say.

Gas detectors are linked to a central monitoring system that activates standby ventilation fans and warning lights. High-density fire sprinklers protect the area and a drainage system and separator tank will trap flammable liquids in case of spillage.

The warehouse was designed after extensive studies of European ports in urban areas, Mr. Ng said, with Singapore's closest equivalent found in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Khoo Chin Hean, an official with the Environment Ministry, says the safety measures will reduce the risk of accident to an absolute minimum.