Singapore’s new terminals target mega-vessel productivity

Singapore’s new terminals target mega-vessel productivity

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gets the hang of handling a crane by remote at Pasir Pajiang's automated crane operating center.

HONG KONG — Singapore has opened two new phases of its $2.6 billion Pasir Panjiang Terminal, another step along a massive development road that will help the port cope with mega-ships and alliance complexities continuing to frustrate transshipment hubs in the region.

When phase 3 and 4 are fully operational by the end of 2017, Singapore will have a throughput capacity of 50 million 20-foot-equivalent units, 15 million TEUs more than the port handled last year.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officially opened the expanded terminal that will add 15 berths along a 3.7-mile quay to the existing 52 berths. The new berths have a depth of 59 feet, deep enough to handle the largest ships in service today with some room to spare.

“These new berths will allow us to better serve mega-sized container ships and make us even more efficient now the containerships have 18,000 TEUs and may be bigger eventually. We will serve them with automation,” Lee said in his speech.

Singapore is the leading transshipment hub in Asia, yet does not feature in Asia’s or the world’s top 10 ports in terms of productivity, according to the latest JOC Port Productivity rankings that were released last week.

However, PSA is pouring large amounts of effort and investment into automating the new terminals to raise its box-handling efficiency.

“The gantry cranes, rail mounted in the yards, will no longer need crane operators. Instead, crane specialists will monitor the operations and intervene only once in a while when necessary, saving manpower and improving productivity,” Lee said.

Automation is widely believed to be one of the better ways to serve mega-ships, and terminals around the world loudly market every new automated step. APM Terminals, the Maersk Group’s port operating arm, officially opened the world’s first fully automated container terminal in Rotterdam this year. However, automation doesn’t come cheap and APM is spending $535 million on the terminal.

Like the new PSA terminals, the terminal in Rotterdam is on reclaimed land at Maasvlakte II, which allowed the port operator to start from a blank slate without being forced to fit in to an existing facility. APM Terminals said the Maasvlakte facility, with a 1,100-yard quay and a draft of 65 feet, is the world’s most advanced terminal, boasting 48 automated rail mounted gantry cranes. It has a capacity of 2.7 million TEUs that will be expanded to 4.5 million TEUs.

But even when automated, merely providing the infrastructure is not enough to handle the world’s largest container ships and the multi-member alliances. As Pacific International Lines managing director Teo Siong Seng told earlier this year, a 20,000 TEU ship requires scores of feeder ships to load and off-load boxes at every port call.

Singapore is the last westbound call of the large vessels and the ships generate thousands of container moves, while also carrying intra-Asia cargo that is all offloaded in the port before the vessels continue on to Europe.

Surges in volume at peak periods often overwhelm terminals, especially when they arrive on ships operating under a large alliance flag. The CKYHE and G6 have cargo from five and six different container lines riding on each vessel and the boxes have to be repositioned by truck to the terminals called at by the individual alliance members. Containers on the alliance vessels also have to be moved to meet ships operated by non-alliance members.

This is a challenge taxing the minds of Hong Kong’s terminal operators that battle to generate the efficiency required to turn around big ships quickly — and serve rising barge traffic — in the tightly constrained port.

Terminals around the world grappling with these challenges must be looking at Singapore’s port development and turning green with envy. Beyond the new phases being added at Pasir Panjiang, PSA is working closely with the Singapore government on the development of the future Tuas Port an industrial estate in the western part of the city.

All the container operations in Singapore will be consolidated in one giant reclaimed port that will put the city well out of reach of its competitors, and the city-state’s prime minister said it would be “a first-class port built from scratch.”

“It will raise our capacity to 65 million TEUs, almost double what we moved through the port last year,” Lee said. “More importantly, it is a green-field site that enables us to use advanced technology to fundamentally change the way the port is run, using data analytics, autonomous vehicles and green technology to sharpen our efficiency, reliability and show our competitive edge.”

Work is well underway on the new Tuas port, which should be operational within the next decade.

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