Port in Hong Kong: The Blue Economy turning blue

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The good old days are gone and Hong Kong needs to come up with a new strategy for its shrinking shipping industry.

(Photo credit: Mk2010 via wikipedia)

In face of increasing challenges, the once prominent Port of Hong Kong is now begging for mercy from its mainland competitors .

On the 24th of November, at the conference on “Opportunities and Challenges for the Hong Kong Port in the 13th Five-Year Plan,” Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-Leung (張炳良), noted that while Hong Kong remains competitive in the global shipping industry, its position as world-leader has already been surpassed by Singapore, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Ningbo. Furthermore, in terms of throughout, it is now being closely followed by Busan and South Korea. The conference showcased a house of industry leaders and academics engaging on how to cope with increasing unfavourable conditions.

Hong Kong handled 20.1 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) of containers in 2015, compared with 24.2 million for Shenzhen, 30.9 million in Singapore and 36.5 million for Shanghai. The first half of 2016 saw a 10% drop and the downward slope appears to be unalterable.

The major issue for Hong Kong is that as China continues to relax its shipping policy to allow foreign vessels to load and unload cargoes along its coast, the city is losing its role as a transhipment point for goods to and from the mainland, which accounted for about a quarter of laden container movements in Hong Kong in 2015. Ports in Shanghai and Shenzhen, for example, are more efficient, more spacious, less costly and have deeper bays to park new mega-ships.

In response, the Hong Kong government has deepened its channel to 17.5 metres from 15 metres and is looking into measures to enhance the use of port back-up land at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals (KTCTs).

Jessie Chung Wai-yin (鍾惠賢), chairperson of the Hong Kong Container Terminal Operators Association, has called on Hong Kong delegates of the National People’s Congress to express concerns to Chinese officials on the impacts of further cabotage relaxation. However, given Hong Kong’s diminishing strategic importance to China, the probability of such a compromise appears to be low.

Professor Zheng Tianxiang (鄭天祥) of Sun Yat-sen University, meanwhile, warned that Hong Kong may well fall out of the world’s top 10 busiest ports by 2020, proposing instead a mega-free-port in the Pearl River Delta region with the city specialising in high value-added shipping services and cold chain logistics.

Hong Kong is home to 9% of the world’s merchant fleet and some 800 companies that provide a variety of shipping services including ship management, shipping agency, ship brokering, ship financing and marine insurance, as well as arbitration and legal services.

During his speech, the transport minister also stressed that Hong Kong can play an active role in the much-emphasised Belt and Road initiatives in providing shipping services, asserting: “We shouldn’t overlook this crucial development trend just because of certain political reasons.”