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Mega ships require ports to handle higher volume of containers: PSA chief

Mega ships require ports to handle higher volume of containers: PSA chief

LEIPZIG:  With ships becoming bigger and the advent of “mega ships”, authorities need to examine its ports and come up with an adequate masterplan to cover the next two decades given that ports take a long time to ramp up its capacity and may be hard pressed to handle the higher volume of containers, said Mr Tan Chong Meng, PSA International’s Group chief executive officer.

Speaking yesterday (May 28) at a plenary session at the International Transport Forum held in Leipzig, Germany, Mr Tan said the volume which Singapore’s port handles is about the size of what Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg handle combined. He added that container handling volume has grown exponentially worldwide – increasing by about seven times in the last two and a half decades. In order to cope with that, shipping lines have changed the size of the ships quite substantially, doubling in size every eight years.

The recently launched Maersk Triple E class has a capacity of about 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU). By 2018, there will be about 80 of such large-scale container ships, and about 400 ships that are 10,000 TEU and above, he said.

“But ports are built for 30 years so there is a timing difference between the decisions on the line side and the rest of the infrastructure,” he said. Policy makers have to have a port and city masterplan that is good enough for the next 20 years. This is because while it takes just five to eight years to upsize ships, it takes cities a decade or two and sometimes longer, to upgrade its infrastructure, he said.

Raising the question of whether the industry should moderate the increase in the number of big ships sailing around the world, Mr Tan said when the first Maersk Triple E class ships were launched, there were a lot of “congestion, confusion and an inability to operate in a smooth and seamless manner”. “We need to be able to cope with (the mega ships) and actually ensure that we are not breaking down the resilience of the rest of the trade system,” he said.

Mr Tan also noted that while the aviation industry is affected greatly by natural disasters, it is different situation for the maritime industry where any disaster tend to be isolated to a particular port or region. As a result, the industry does not possess the same sense of urgency to evolve, he said.