It was handled by the APM Terminals-operated Cai Mep International Terminal (CMIT), the second-largest of the port's seven competing facilities with 25 per cent share of volumes.
Jan Bandstra, CMIT's general director, said the port's volumes had grown hand-in-hand with Vietnam's strong GDP growth and 'unprecedented' surge in exports, largely to the the US. CMIT now handles two 2M transpacific services, one each to the US east and west coasts, as well as two similar services from the Ocean Alliance.
Said CMIT chief Jan Bandstra: 'For the past four years, we've seen over 20 per cent volume growth on the on mainline services, predominantly on the transpacific trades.'
That's a far cry from 2015, when, six years after opening and still running at just 35 per cent of capacity, the port was frequently described by some analysts as the white elephant an example of poor planning and overcapacity.
Whereas shippers preferred the river terminals of Cat Lai port, 50 kilomeres north in Ho Chi Minh City, these facilities are now 'full to the brim', said Mr Bandstra, paving the way for larger ships and direct calls at Cai Mep.
As a result, of the 11 million TEU handled in southern Vietnam last year, Cai Mep handled 3.7 million TEU, up 25 per cent year on year, with the volume shift out to Ba Ria-Vung Tau province likely to continue unopposed.
And as Vietnam's volumes have grown, so has the average ship size calling, according to Mr Bandstra. 'Right now you see more ships of the 14,000-16,000 teu segment,' he said.
CMIT is the only Cai Mep terminal licensed to handle ultra-large containerships of 18,000 teu and above, he added, and the terminal did handle such ships for CMA CGM's Asia-Europe Ocean Alliance call for six months last year, before the service was replaced and the vessels switched back to 14-15,000 teu.
'I think that was too large for the volumes handled at the time, as with that size you want to do 4,000-5,000 moves, but the actual calls involved roughly 1,000-1,500. But I expect, as a result of the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement, there will be more larger vessels and more direct calls,' he said.
Indeed, CMA CGM appears committed to Cai Mep, having entered into a 25 per cent share joint-venture with homegrown port and logistics group Gemadept to build Cai Mep's newest terminal, Gemalink, set to begin operating this year with a first phase capacity of 1.5 million TEU.
CMIT already faces strong competition from Tan Cang-Cai Mep International Terminal, which claims the largest market share at the port and is a joint venture between Saigon Newport, MOL, Wan Hai, and Hanjin Transport, and receives backing from ONE and THE Alliance.
Despite the surging volumes, however, Mr Bandstra said there was room for improvement at CMIT in terms of road and barge connections to the region's main manufacturing hubs.
'From a shipper's point of view, to truck containers from their warehouse to Cai Mep is still three-to-four times more expensive than using the barges. It's a bit faster, you have a bit more flexibility and you don't have the ICD stopover, but it's much more expensive,' he said.