The Port of Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest container ports. It is monitored and managed by the Marine Department, who have provided safe and sustainable port operations under this name for several decades.
Undoubtedly, the Marine Department has enormous responsibilities. The Port of Hong Kong contributes towards the region’s economic development on an extraordinary scale. Located on the Kowloon Peninsula off the South China Sea, the port is a major hub in the Southeast and East Asian regions. In fact, it deals with 89% of Hong Kong’s total cargo throughput, hosts over 21million yearly TEUs (20-foot equivalent units), and holds 795 government vessels on a permanent basis. It also offers dry-docks, anchorages, slipways, repair and maintenance facilities for all types of vessels. Therefore, the Marine Department is tasked with a wide range of managerial duties to keep all services running, balanced and effective. According to the government website, the Marine Department ‘ensures that conditions exist to enable ships to enter the port’. It also makes sure that ships can ‘work their cargoes’ and leave quickly and safely afterwards. All work is mindful of the ‘many aspects of safety and pollution prevention standards for all classes and types of vessels- from the largest container vessels to the smallest passenger-carrying sampans’.
In order to meet these standards, The Port of Hong Kong has been financed, owned and operated by the private sector. The container terminals are operated by five companies. These are: Modern Terminals (MTL), Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), COSCO Information & Technology (COSCO), Dubai Port International Terminals (DPI) and Asia Container Terminals (ACT). Additionally, the Government Dockyard provides assistance in design, procurement and maintenance of all the vessels it owns.
Like many international ports, Hong Kong’s port has a fascinating history.
Archaeological evidence found at over twenty sites reveals that people from North China settled the Port of Hong Kong area as early as the 2nd Millennium BC. In the 1st Century BC, Cantonese communities settled, and the Hakka and Hoklo communities came to the port in the following centuries. The final struggles between the failing Ming Dynasty and the thriving Manchu Qing Dynasty took place in the Port of Hong Kong.
Much later, in the mid-1800s, Hong Kong Island was home to a fishing village. It was reputed to be a hideaway for pirates.
In 1821, British merchants started using the Port of Hong Kong harbor for opium-laden vessels. They soon recognized the potential of this deep sheltered harbor, so they started to increase contact and conditions of commerce.
When World War II began, Hong Kong was still a British colony, so it became a vulnerable target for attack. During the war, commerce declined dramatically, food was limited, and Hong Kong residents began to escape to inland China. British presence started to dwindle.
In August 1945, the British army returned to the Port of Hong Kong. In 1946, the local government was re-established.
As the 1960s ended, and the region had chance to recover some damage from the war, working and living conditions began to improve. Labor laws, government housing, and public works programs brought relief for workers. At this time, new high-tech industries began to grow; needless to say, the Port of Hong Kong’s financial markets thrived.
In 1997, the Chinese-British Joint Declaration was signed agreeing that China would receive the Port of Hong Kong from British occupation.
After 1997, the Port of Hong Kong economy experienced steady growth (but like all ports, this heavily depended upon world economic conditions.) Economic ties with the Chinese mainland grew stronger. Major investments were made in the transportation infrastructure, including new bridges, roads, and a new airport. Political pressure increased, which influenced democratic reforms to the 1990 law. Beijing announced its intention to allow council members to be directly elected in 2012.
Today, the Port of Hong Kong continues as a hub, serving the South Asian Pacific region. It also acts as an entrepot for Mainland China. The relationship with the Mainland gives Hong Kong a sizeable portion of its trade. In return, Hong Kong is considered “the gateway to China”.
The port has gradually become a regional transshipment hub. Transshipment cargo accounts for around 60% of the port’s container throughput. During 2016, a total of 370 990 sea-going vessels and river-trade vessels arrived in and departed from Hong Kong. However, it is not just cargo that is being transported: there are passengers and commuters too. In 2016, the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan, the China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui and the Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal in Tuen Mun provided ferry services to Macao and 11 ports in the Mainland. In this year alone, 24.91 million passengers passed through the terminals. This figure is made from the 20.66 million passenger travels to or from Macao, plus the 4.25 million passenger travels to/from the Mainland ports.
So, how has the port’s increased size affected construction requirements? Simply, terminals had to be built on a large scale. Much of this growth and reform took place in the 1970’s, and continued into the 2000’s. The construction of the first three terminals began in 1970. Terminal 4 works commenced in 1974 and the port was expanded significantly with Terminals 5, 6, 7 and 8 by 1987. The River Trade Terminal construction was completed in 1999. More recently, Terminal 9 at Kwai Chung was constructed: this took place in 2004.
Now, the port has nine container terminals in the following areas: the Kwai Chung area, Stonecutters Island and Tsing Yi. The Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi Container Terminals are located in the north-western part of the harbour. This area consists of 24 berths with 7,694m of deep water frontage. The container handling facilities occupy a total terminal area of about 279ha, and feature container yards and freight stations. The nine container terminals have a total handling capacity of more than 19m TEUs.
Movement of cargo happens all over the port. The consolidation of containers, break bulk and bulk cargo operations are handled by the river trade terminal at Tsuen Mun, whereas the mid-stream areas at the harbour take on the loading and unloading of cargoes. Bulk handling facilities for coal and oil are provided at the power generating stations at Tap Shek Kok in Castle Peak and at Po Lo Tsui on Lamma Island. Interestingly, radio technology has traditionally helped the Marine Department to negotiate these movements. The Department is able to make communication links across the port and its channels through the VHF radio network.
In consideration of this, it is worth noting that recent advancements in technology have been truly helpful with communications in general. For example, the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) has been able to provide maritime distress alert monitoring. The MRCC organise maritime search and rescue operations within the Hong Kong region, which is hugely important around the islands.
Tracking services have also become more advanced. The Vessel Traffic Service (VTS), which tracks vessel movements, has been installed in Hong Kong’s harbour area. The VTW ensures the safety standard and traffic efficiency of the port. The system can track 4,000 moving vessels plus 1,000 stationary targets in real-time. It uses advanced technology such as AIS, ECDIS, CCTV, new VHF-direction finders and modern communications aids to enhance the navigational safety and functional efficiency in the port.
In a further example of safety, 554 modern marine aids have been placed throughout Hong Kong waters to guide mariners to and from their berths. These navigational aids are constantly being improved to ensure greater safety still. In addition, all fairway buoys are well lit and are fitted with radar reflectors as standard.
These examples highlight a growing trend. Since 1990, the Marine Department has subdivided in order to keep abreast of safety developments. For example, the Hydrographic Office (HO) of the Marine Department is responsible for surveying Hong Kong waters. The HO produces nautical charts for mariners on the ships. According to the official government website, these are ‘complied fully with the International Hydrographic Organization standards’. The HO promulgates fortnightly Notices to Mariners to update the bilingual nautical charts as well as the Electronic Navigational Charts. It also broadcasts continually on 289 kHz Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) correction signal for mariners using DGPS receiver to more accurately fix the position. Tidal Stream Prediction Service is used for Hong Kong waters and the real-time tidal information of several different tide gauges along the coastline are available on HO’s website.
Improvements to monitoring, transportation and safety are not entirely based on technology, however. Hong Kong has such a strong maritime record on account of its mature legal system, open business environment, readily available financial supports and multicultural society. These are cohering factors that underpin the success of the port, and, the success of Hong Kong.