Some ports have seen their volumes soar in 2017 compared to 2016 while others have seen only tiny increases or a decline in numbers. Chinese ports dominate the top 10 with many capitalising on the Belt and Road initiative, while there is fierce competition among southeast Asia ports to be the regional transhipment hub
Shanghai has scooped top spot for the box port with the greatest volumes in 2017 – jumping by 8.3% compared to 2016 and handling 6.6M TEU more than second-in-the-league Singapore.
Boosting its position is its Yangshan phase four terminal, opened at the end of 2016. It is an automated facility capable of handling 4M TEU per year. The yard cranes are driverless, as are battery-powered automatically guided vehicles that transfer containers between quay cranes and yard stacks. The port has also been building up its links along the Yangtze River as part of its strategy to increase inland waterways traffic.
Shanghai looks set to cement its position further as Shanghai city’s Three-Year (2018-20) Action Plan aims to further strengthen Shanghai’s status as an international shipping hub.
Shanghai has ranked first for eight consecutive years – and it looks like that is set to continue.
Singapore port achieved cargo volumes of 33.6M TEU in 2017, an 8.9% leap compared to 2016.
When releasing its results in March, PSA group chairman Fock Siew Wah explained some of the reasons behind its continued strong growth across Singapore and its other terminals. “2017 ended on a relatively positive note as global container throughput had its strongest showing since 2011, aided by stronger economic growth in many countries. The frenzied container liner shipping consolidation in 2016, which percolated into service deployment changes in 2017, also contributed towards PSA’s group throughput for the year.”
He highlighted the importance of digitalisaton in boosting cargo flow going forward, something PSA Singapore has increasingly focused on. In June this year CMA CGM’s Ze Box and PSA unboXed signed a memorandum of understanding to drive digitalisation and innovation in the shipping and supply chain ecosystem. Ze Box is CMA CGM’s corporate venture capital arm that invests in start-ups with innovations that bring strategic value to the CMA CGM Group, while PSA unboXed is PSA International’s external innovation and corporate venture capital arm.
And in February, Pacific International Lines, PSA and IBM finished a successful blockchain trial from Chongqing to Singapore.
Shenzhen managed to retain its third spot despite a strong 14.1% gain by fourth-placed Ningbo. Last year saw it scoop 25.2M TEU, an increase of 5.1% compared to 2016. Plans to make it a free trade port by the end of 2020 will further boost its throughput. It is reported that the port plans to cut its customs clearance time for cargo by one-third by 2020, through streamlining procedures and lifting some of the trade restrictions.
Ningbo’s volumes soared by 14.1% in 2017 – the greatest year-on-year increase in the top 20 global box ports – reaching 24.6M TEU. It has won a clutch of new services this year, including a new central and south China-Australia Express sling to be launched in August by Evergreen, Hyundai Merchant Marine and APL. In the same month, APL announced it was adding Eagle GO Guaranteed to its Asia-Europe service network that also includes Ningbo.
The port joined LNG Bunkering Port Focus Group in July last year which was created to enable the uptake of LNG as marine fuel. With LNG expected to be used by more container ships, especially after CMA CGM’s announcement that it would be using it on its newbuilds, Ningbo is placing itself in a good position to win more container volumes.
5. Hong Kong
In fifth place, Hong Kong managed to reverse two consecutive years of losses in 2015 and 2016 with a 4.8% improvement in 2017. Its volumes hit 20.7M TEU. Hong Kong is hoping to gain new maritime business generated from China’s One Belt One Road initiative. At a seminar held in London in February last year, speakers from Hong Kong and London outlined various opportunities the huge investments could open up for both maritime hubs. Secretary for transport and housing at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Anthony Cheung said “We see only looming opportunities and growth potential from the Belt and Road initiative.” He pointed out China has signed more than 30 bilateral agreements with countries for infrastructure investment. “Hong Kong has thrived as a free trade hub and is consolidating as a super connector in maritime services,” Professor Cheung said. Furthermore, the port will benefit from the boost in trade links on the back of the Hong Kong-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, which will be implemented from 2019.
Busan is still in sixth place, with 20.4M TEU, an increase of 5.2% compared to 2016. The port is focused on boosting its transhipment cargo volumes and to this end is creating a worldwide business network based on Busan Port and thereby developing Busan into a global transhipment hub, with cargo from Busan’s areas of investment being fed into the South Korea port. Created in 2016, the port’s international business division has been looking around the world for potential areas of interest and said at the time the emerging markets of southeast Asia such as Cambodia and Vietnam, and South America and Africa were of particular interest.
Guangzhou is still at number eight in the league. It saw its volumes rise by 8% to 20.3M TEU. Its main container terminal is Port of Nansha, which said a major reason for the jump in container traffic between 2016 and 2017 was trade with North America, which increased by 32.6%. Currently the Port of Nansha has over 50 global services serviced by over 20 carriers. A statement said the port’s location as the only deepwater port on the west side of the Pearl River Delta is a key to the recent surge. The location is close to many new sourcing factories providing products for export as well as to a rising population of domestic consumers. The west side of the Pearl River is also less congested than the Shenzhen ports on the east side of the Pearl River Delta.
Qingdao is at number nine in the global league. Despite holding on to its place, the Bohai Bay port only saw its volumes climb by 1.6% to 18.3M TEU. However, no doubt that percentage rise will grow rapidly in future, as Qingdao is, like Hong Kong, planning to capitalise on the Belt and Road Initiative. In March this year, Qingdao Port International and COSCO Shipping Ports established a joint venture – Ocean Bridge International Ports Management – to boost co-operation with the Belt and Road Initiative. A statement said “The two sides will make full integration of project development and management to realise the complementary advantages, raise the level of the operation and management of the terminal and achieve win-win development, to integrate into the Belt and Road Initiative.”
9. Los Angeles/Long Beach
Los Angeles and Long Beach – the largest ports in the US and known as the gateway to southern California – have seen their combined volumes grow by 8% to 16.8M TEU. 2017 was a record year for both ports. Port of Long Beach saw its container volumes soar by 11% in 2017 compared to 2016 hitting 7.7M TEU. This is the port’s highest annual container volume in its 107-year history. Explaining what lay behind it, the port's executive director Mario Cordero told Container Shipping & Trade “Cargo growth and trade overall in the global community have shown positive numbers but our investments in container infrastructure have proven to be a big factor.” Over at Port of Los Angeles, the port has had two back-to-back ‘record’ years in 2016 and 2017. It handled just over 9M TEU for the calendar year 2017, up from 8.8M TEU in 2016. These are the best volume results since 2006. The forecast is for slow but steady annual growth of low single-digit figures.
Dubai saw its volumes grow by 4% to reach 15.3M TEU last year. In 2017, DP World invested US$836M of capital expenditure in the EMEA region, which was mainly focused on the capacity expansions at Dubai’s flagship Jebel Ali port, Jebel Ali Free Zone and London Gateway (UK). Volumes have been boosted as the company invested in the Jebel Ali Free Zone and inland terminals, which the company said have “proven to not only diversify our business but also improve the quality of our earnings”.
Tianjin has stayed at number 11, with volumes of 15M TEU, representing a 3.8% increase compared to 2016. In a statement announcing its 2017 results, the port highlighted its focus on containerised cargo. It said it would implement the strategy of prioritising the development of its container business, strengthen efforts in route development, actively explore new routes and enhance their capacity, expand transhipment capacity, and increase the cargo volume of Bohai Rim feeder ships. It is another Chinese port hoping to capitalise on the Belt and Road initiative: calling itself an “important hub” in the initiative, as well as in the China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor and a strategic point of the Maritime Silk Road.
Port of Rotterdam has jumped from number 13 in 2016 to 12 in 2017. Its volumes soared by 11% to hit 13.7M TEU. It has benefited from the launch of the new mega alliances launched in April last year. According to research from CargoSmart, the number of vessels calling at Rotterdam after the formation of the alliances rose from 192 to 222, with the average vessel size rising from 14,500 TEU to 14,900 TEU. A major strategy for the port is boosting the productivity and efficiency of its container terminals’ operations with a strong digitalisation strategy, including use of internet of things (IoT) technologies. In January this year it announced its collaboration with IBM on the IoT initiative. A centralised dashboard application is being developed that will collect and process real-time water and weather sensor and communications data, analysed through the IBM IoT platform. This will no doubt be advantageous for capturing more services/cargo.
13. Port Kelang
Port Kelang has dropped from number 13 in 2016 to 12 and seen its volumes plunge by 9% to 11.9M TEU. The port’s main container terminal operator Westports lost out after CMA CGM acquired Singapore-headquartered APL in 2016. One of the stipulations of the sale of state-owned APL was that CMA CGM also take on APL’s Singapore terminals, resulting in the line adopting a dual-hub strategy for southeast Asia and transferring a large number of Ocean Alliance volumes from Kelang to Singapore. But it is not all bad news for Kelang – its largest trade is now intra-Asia, which saw growth of 8% and accounted for 57% of its traffic in terms of trade mix in 2017. Its CT8 and CT9 terminal expansion programmes mean the port has future long-term capacity secured.
Antwerp port has jumped from number 15 to 14, with a 4.1% rise to 10.4M TEU. It has also enjoyed a record Q1 this year – container volumes jumped by 9.5% compared to the same period last year. The big driver behind this growth is the Europe–North America trade lane, which soared year-on-year by 14.5%. Northeast and southeast Asia, Antwerp’s largest market, was stable but grew by a smaller 4.1%. China’s ban on imported plastic waste affected volumes. Port of Antwerp director of international relations Luc Arnouts told Container Shipping & Trade the port was optimistic about passing 11M containers for 2018, a growth of 6% compared to 2016.
Xiamen has jumped from number 16 to 15 with throughput soaring by 8% to 10.3M TEU. It has put in a solid performance over the last few years; in 2015, it was the fastest growing of the top 10 largest container ports in China, with volumes rising by 7.5% compared to 2014. It has focused on expanding over the past few years. In 2010, Xiamen Port incorporated the neighboring port of Zhangzhou to form the largest port in China's southeast region. The world's top 20 shipping companies have all established major shipping routes and operations in Xiamen.
Taiwan’s flagship port, Kaohsiung, has seen its volumes drop by 1.9% to 10.2M TEU, pushing its position down from number 14 to 16. In its 2040 master plan executive summary, the port said it could no longer rely on the strengths of its convenient location and that change was the “only effective approach to facing and succeeding against brutal competition”. To this end its major focuses include building more deepwater ports as “effectively meeting the needs of the largest container ships will be key to Kaohsiung Port maintaining and expanding its role as an international transhipment centre”.
Dalian has kept its place at number 17, despite seeing only a small increase (1.2%) to reach 9.7M TEU. Last August Dalian Port Company revealed that its subsidiary Dalian Container Terminal Company signed deals to acquire the assets of two container terminal subsidiaries, Dalian Port Container Terminal and Dalian International Container Terminal. This move should boost volumes, as its aim is to further integrate resources, reduce management costs and improve operational efficiency.
Hamburg is in at number 18 with a small decline in volumes of 0.8%. However, while there has been a slight decline in transhipment volumes, there has still been growth in the port’s hinterland volumes – and it is this more lucrative growth that Hamburg is targeting. Hinterland traffic has steadily increased by 2-2.4% a year over the last few years, according to Hamburg Port Authority marketing chief executive Axel Mattern. “These volumes are the most important index for us,” he said. “We have a huge volume of feeder containers. They are good business because they are counted twice, but they are not money spinners for the port. A container that goes to the hinterland is a more attractive proposition.”
19. Tanjung Pelepas
Malaysia’s biggest container port saw its volume creep up by 1.2% year-on-year to reach 8.38M TEU. It competes with Singapore and Port Kelang to be the transshipment hub for southeast Asia, and is facing a lot of competition, particularly from Singapore’s closer relationship with CMA CGM through the carrier’s acquisition of Singapore-headquartered carrier APL. Tanjung Pelepas is investing around US$2.1Bn under its latest plan to further improve the port’s capacity over the next five to 15 years.
20. Laem Chabang
Laem Chabang saw its volumes shoot up by 7.7% to 7.78M TEU. This eclipses its 3.6% growth between 2015 and 2016. Laem Chabang expanded its container operations in June this year when Hutchison Ports Thailand opened its US$600M terminal – its third at the port. The new terminal will help Thailand boost its transhipment traffic as the facility could pave the way for a 40% capacity increase in the vessels calling at the port.