Hong Kong port declines as Singapore grows 2014 throughput

Hong Kong port declines as Singapore grows 2014 throughput

HONG KONG — Hong Kong port ended a year it would rather forget with annual container throughput falling for a third consecutive time, registering 22.2 million TEUs in 2014 that was down 0.3 percent on the previous year's numbers.

By contrast, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said the city’s terminals had handled 33.9 million TEUs in 2014, keeping the port firmly in second place behind Shanghai that expects 35.2 million TEUs to have crossed its wharves last year.

Hong Kong’s 0.3 percent drop in 2014 throughput translates into about 70,000 TEUs, hardly surprising considering the port’s largest terminal operator, Hutchison Port Holdings’ Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), was hit by the worst strike in the city’s history, and the Kwai Chung terminals faced levels of congestion described as “critical” by the industry.

Hong Kong's container port is one of the clearest examples in the world of the impact larger vessels and the mega alliances are having on the shipping business. The port can handle the giant ships, such as Maersk’s Triple-E vessels that carry 18,000 TEUs, but these bigger ships discharge greater concentrated volumes that can overwhelm terminals at peak periods.

Alliances with several members, such as the G6 or CKYHE, require thousands of inter-terminal truck moves to reposition containers with feeder lines and even carriers that are not members of the alliances. That led to significant congestion during 2014 and impacted the port’s annual throughput.

Hong Kong throughput at its Kwai Chung container terminals registered the fifth straight month of  year-over-year decline in December, falling 10 percent compared to the same month last year.

Singapore’s 2014 throughput grew by 4 percent year-over-year to reach 33.9 million 20-foot containers, almost all of it — 33.55 million TEUs — handled by PSA Singapore Terminals, that also recorded 4.1 percent growth year-over-year. 

PSA International handled 65 million 20-foot containers at its terminals around the world in 2014, a 4 percent increase year-over-year. Its terminals outside Singapore saw growth of almost 8 percent, handling 31.89 million TEUs.

But PSA Group CEO Tan Chong Meng said Singapore was also impacted by the larger vessels and alliances, and 2014 was a challenging year for the port industry.

“Global trade growth was modest and that, coupled with the introduction of many mega vessels, resulted in overcapacity and low freight rates for liner carriers,” he said in a statement. 

“The increasingly large ships and complex alliances have also led to much greater operational demands being placed on port operators; this is a structural shift which will impact all ports as ships across all shipping routes continue to upsize.”

He said the world’s second largest port operator would continue to invest in increasing the terminals’ capabilities and operational efficiencies.

The port of Shanghai said last month it expected to remain atop the world container port rankings with a 2014 throughput of 35.2 million TEUs.

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