Trade growth helps South Korean ports overcome Hanjin exit

Trade growth helps South Korean ports overcome Hanjin exit

Hanjin Shipping's bankruptcy robbed the port of Busan of momentum that had helped it climb global port rankings.

Foreign trade-related container throughput at ports in South Korea expanded 10.5 percent year-over-year in April on the back of the highest monthly growth in the value of exports since the summer of 2011.

South Korean ports handled 1.41 million TEU of exports and imports out of a total 2.34 million TEU throughput last month as the value of exports from Asia’s fourth-largest economy rose 24 percent year-over-year to more than $51 billion. Imports grew 16.6 percent to $37.7 billion, figures from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy show.

The strong export growth was mainly driven by a large year-over-year rise in shipments of semiconductor chips and flat panel displays. Exports to China rose by more than 10 percent year-over-year and exports to the United States by just less than 4 percent.

Data from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries showed non-containerized cargo volumes through the country’s ports were up by 4 percent compared with April 2016, to 88.7 million tons.

At Busan, the country’s largest seaborne trade gateway, the strong trade performance by the economy helped offset the damage on throughput of last year’s collapse of Hanjin Shipping, which is still being felt by the port.

April 2017 volumes at the port in the southeast of the country rose to 1.77 million TEU from 1.59 million TEU in April 2016.

Prior to the collapse of the national shipping line, Busan was poised to supplant Hong Kong and move to fifth place in the global container port rankings, and become the world’s second-largest transshipment hub after Singapore.

Busan handled 19.43 million TEU in 2016, just below Hong Kong. The port is near the 20-million-TEU barrier in 2017 despite a 3 percent drop in transshipment business due to the Hanjin bankruptcy.

Busan used to be the third-largest container port in the world, but was overtaken by the three Chinese ports of Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Ningbo-Zhoushan.

The port is hoping that part of the volume gap due to the loss of Hanjin will be filled by SM Line, the new purchaser and operator of Hanjin’s Asia-North America route.

SM Line is headquartered in Busan and earlier in 2017, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Busan Port Authority (BPA).

BPA is providing the line with administrative and financial support, and cooperating with it in areas such as regaining trust and business from beneficial cargo owners hit by the collapse of Hanjin.

Other initiatives to boost its competitiveness include the building of a new data center to collect, store, and manage data on the latest trends in container shipping.

The center will be built in phases before fully opening in 2019. It will support efforts to identify trends, patterns, and changes in shipping, and allow officials to directly monitor the pace of shipments coming into and leaving the country. It will include the capability to monitor cargo dwell times in order to reduce berth waiting times and improve productivity.

South Korean shipping made moves elsewhere in Asia as well, as Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) officially took over three container berths at Kaohsiung port in Taiwan that were previously operated by Hanjin Shipping.

Taiwan International Ports Corporation, the state body that oversees ports in the country, said in a statement that HMM took over operations at berths 76, 77, and 78, which have a combined annual handling capacity of 640,000 TEU, more than 5 percent of the total volume handled by the port in 2016.

Contact Turloch Mooney at and follow him on Twitter: @TurlochMooney.

A version of this story also appeared on IHS Fairplay, a sister product of within IHS Markit.