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Once world's greatest port, Hong Kong sinks in global ranking

HONGKONG International Terminals (HIT), the city's biggest container-terminal operator and part of Li Ka-shing's CK Hutchison Holdings, is freezing salaries due to rising competition and the US-China trade war

Once world's greatest port, Hong Kong sinks in global ranking

HONGKONG International Terminals (HIT), the city's biggest container-terminal operator and part of Li Ka-shing's CK Hutchison Holdings, is freezing salaries due to rising competition and the US-China trade war

25 January 2019 - 19:00

HONGKONG International Terminals (HIT), the city's biggest container-terminal operator and part of Li Ka-shing's CK Hutchison Holdings, is freezing salaries due to rising competition and the US-China trade war.

HIT has also formed an alliance with rival dock operators in Hong Kong in a bid to cut costs.



Singapore, once No 2 behind Hong Kong, which was No 1 in global rankings in 2004, now handles 50 per cent more containers than before, while South Korea's Busan increased its volume more than 80 per cent.



Singapore has added berths and set up ventures to operate terminals with Cosco and Ocean Express Network to bring in business. Busan said it is cutting port fees and providing funds for shipping lines that bring in more cargo.



Meanwhile Hong Kong has been hamstrung by years of debate over how and whether it should enlarge its port facilities. It's been more than a decade since the city began studying the need for a 10th terminal.



'It's been a tsunami of negative developments for Hong Kong,' said Rahul Kapoor, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Singapore.



'Hong Kong hasn't kept pace with developments in the past years when the Chinese invested money in expanding capacity,' he said.



London's Drewry Shipping Consultants said Hong Kong had been among the world's five busiest container ports since 1979, when the company first started compiling the data. But the city fell to seventh place in 2018, overtaken by neighbouring Guangzhou and Busan, based on 11-month and full-year data from port authorities.



China's Qingdao could be next to surpass it this year. Hong Kong owes its existence to its port - the sheltered, deep water 'fragrant harbour' that fostered the city's breakneck growth for more than a century as the gateway for goods into and out of China.



In 2004, Hong Kong was the busiest container port in the world, with boxes full of manufactured goods fed to its wharves by trucks, barges and coastal ships from cities in China.



But since then Hong Kong has been overtaken by one Asian port after another, mostly on the mainland, as local and national governments invested in new facilities for bigger ships that could carry goods directly to markets around the world, without the need for transshipment in Hong Kong.



In 2004, Hong Kong filled more than 150,000 vessels. That number has now almost halved, and container traffic at the port has fallen every month since April for an overall decline of 5.4 per cent last year, according to the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board.



That compares with an increase of 4.4 per cent for Shanghai and 5.8 per cent for Busan in 2018, and a 7.1 per cent gain for Guangzhou in the first 11 months.



HIT has formed an alliance with Modern Terminals. and two other operators to jointly manage and operate 23 berths at the main Kwai Tsing terminals.


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