Most of the big container handling terminals in Asia have reported growth factors in recent months, both in volumes handled and performance over the quayside and via the dock gates.

But like everything in the shipping world, there are always exceptions to the rule, particular with the major congestion factors that have affected most ports not only in Asia, but in the United States and to a lesser degree in Europe.

One of the big names in Asian terminal operators, Hutchinson Port Holdings Trust, has reported recently a lower net profit in the third quarter 2014, despite an increase in revenue and container throughput.

Net profit fell 9% third quarter year-on-year to HK$490.7 million (US$63.3 million), but revenue increased by 2% to HK$3.42 billion (US$441 million) over the same timeframe.

Hutchison’s container throughput of Hutchison International Terminals (HIT) in Hong Kong’s Kwai Tsing district increased by 2.1% percent in the 3rd quarter of 2014 compared to the same period of 2013, primarily due to higher transhipment volume, but this surge in volumes was mostly offset by weaker volume numbers on the intra-Asia trades.

Moving further north to Shanghai, the port, according to latest figures available, handled higher container volumes in October compared to a year earlier, through handling 3.02 million teu, an increase of 7.5% compared to the 2.81 million teu handled in October 2013.

Shanghai has recorded a drop in container throughput for the first time this year. The latest figures for November from Shanghai International Port Co show that volumes year-on-year declined 0.7% to 2.92 million teu.

Last month’s volumes also decreased by 3.2% compared to 3.02 million teu handled during October, but on the positive side, the first 11 months of the year saw Shanghai’s total throughput reach 32.39 million teu, up 4.8% from 30.91 million teu recorded during the same 11 month period in 2013.

Southeast Asia and Singapore continued the late third quarter upward trend by recording an increase in container volumes handled in October to 2.97 million teu, which was an increase of 5.3% year-on-year.

The previous month’s volume also increased 5.7% compared to 2.81 million and taking year-on-year for the Q1/Q3 period 2014, Singapore handled a total of 28.1 million teu, recording an increase over 3.6% compared to the same period a year earlier.

Hong Kong has struggled to rid itself of the port congestion label. Hong Kong’s container volumes fell for the fourth consecutive month in October, down 3.5% year-on-year to 1.79 million teu.

The year-on-year decline in October followed a fall of 7.3% in September, a drop of 0.4% in August and a decline of 0.7% in July.

As was expected, the substantial decline reported during the month of October has been attributed to port congestion as the port struggled to handle increasing levels of transhipment cargo, which accounts for roughly 70% of the throughput.

On the financial side and from an expansion programme aspect, Malaysia’s Westports Holdings has plans to invest RM1 billion (US$286 million) to build container terminal 8, a project that is expected to last at least the next three years.

Much of the work being undertaken on this project is being done looking ahead to visions of Westport becoming a major hub for the Ocean Three Alliance, combining  CMA CGM, CSCL and UASC. Westports Holdings has already forecast a revenue growth within its port activities of between 5% and 10% for 2015.

But within all the glamour and mainly positive results, there will always be a downside, and the biggest problem facing many Asian container handling terminals is that of port congestion.

Arguably, one of the biggest hit is Manila, where port congestion problems has seen quayside performance recently plummet to between 10 and 12 moves per hour from 20 to 25 moves. Daily gate outbound container movements have taken a tumble from around 6,000 teu to just 4,000 teu because of the congestion problems.

But on a positive note, the big terminal operators, including ICTSI and Asian Terminals Inc, are working extra time to at least halve the number of vessels caught up in the congestion problems within the closing weeks of December.


By Paul Richardson

Sea Freight Correspondent | London