Big Ships Prompt Singapore to Up Productivity Research

Big Ships Prompt Singapore to Up Productivity Research

With productivity a growing battleground among container terminals, Singapore is making a high-profile research investment to ensure its port, the world’s second busiest, remains competitive.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and PSA Corp. will inject $24 million into the Port Technology Research and Development Program to develop next-generation technologies for future container terminal operations. The parties inked a memorandum of understanding to continue research and development initiatives to boost port efficiency and productivity, PSA said in a statement.

“With growing demands on ports to accommodate ever larger ships and growing amounts of cargo, it is imperative that we leverage on new technologies to increase our port efficiency and productivity,” MPA chief executive Andrew Tan said.

Under the MOU, MPA will provide a further $12 million over five years from the Maritime Innovation and Technology Fund. PSA will provide additional co-funding of up to $12 million over the same period, bringing the total amount committed to $40 million, up from $16 million initially.

The initiative will continue to focus on key areas of port automation, intelligent planning and control systems, and green port solutions.

“Through co-funding of such R&D efforts, we hope to see the adoption of new systems and technologies that will significantly enhance the competitiveness of Singapore as a global transshipment hub and bring benefits to the rest of the industry,” Tan said.

Transshipment ports in 2013Singapore ranks near the top among major transshipment ports in terms of berth productivity.

Singapore had 73 total berth moves per hour in 2013, placing it near the top among major transshipment ports, based on preliminary JOC Port Productivity figures, but still lower than ports such as Jebel Ali, with 95 moves per hour, and Busan and Shanghai, at 92 moves per hour.

As container ships are getting larger, the larger number of containers needing to be loaded and offloaded at a single port call is creating a whole new set of challenges for ports, including a need to improve moves per hour at the berth and handling surges of truck gate moves. Alphaliner figures show that with the largest ships on order, from China Shipping Container Line, able to handle 19,000 TEUs, container ships are getting larger at a faster rate. More than 82 percent of the current orderbook is for vessels over 8,000 TEUs, Drewry told the TPM conference in Long Beach last month. Carriers evaluate ports and terminals in part on the basis of how quickly they can turn around ships and in many regions have options on where they can send their ships, stoking competition among ports.

Throughput in Singapore hit 32.6 million 20-foot containers in 2013, a 2.9 percent increase over 2012. Total cargo tonnage handled last year rose 3.6 percent over 2012 to reach 557.5 million tonnes. PSA’s Singapore terminals handled 32.24 million 20-foot containers, with a 3.1 percent growth rate last year.

Contact Greg Knowler at and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.