PSA International chief reflection

EVER wondered why the container is measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) while the ships that carry them are measured in metres, mused Tan Chong Meng, CEO of Singapore’s global port operator, PSA International.

You are right if you guessed it was an American invention, he said, writing in Singapore’s Straits Times. When Malcom McLean first invented the container in the 1950s, he could not have anticipated that it would become one of the most powerful forces of change in the world.

The first shipment, on a vessel named the Ideal X, carried only 58 containers from Newark to Houston in April 1956. The gains in labour, space and speed were huge and immediate.

The Ideal X – ain’t she a beauty! image credit

Today, the largest ships plying the oceans have a capacity of 20,000 TEU, 300 times the size. If we were to line up one mega-vessel’s full load of containers end-to-end, the resulting line would stretch over 120 kilometres!

In fact, I consider the container as among the top five forces that have transformed our world in the last five decades – and it isn’t just because I happen to be in this industry. I believe that its credentials measure up well against other transformational forces like globalised financial systems, proliferated air travel, game-changing information systems and pervasive mechanisation with related energy dependence.

Very much unchanged since its invention, the humble container paved the way for an explosion of international trade. Today, more than 60 per cent of seaborne trade is containerised, and it has been estimated by the Economist Intelligence Unit that the container has done more for global trade than the most comprehensive of trade pacts.

It changed the face of global manufacturing, and enabled Singapore to carve out its role in international logistics. All of this is perhaps clearer in hindsight, but in the 1960s, when Singapore was a nation still in its infancy, it was far from clear that this phenomenon would change the world.

So it was with great foresight and vision that Mr Howe Yoon Chong, chairman of the then Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), made the decision to build a container handling terminal during those early days.

Like the man himself, the move was bold and unconventional. It called for a World Bank loan, and the guts and gumption to act against the advice of international port experts. His strategic decision paved the way for mechanisation, with a strong dose of Singapore-style efficiency and labour effectiveness.

Singapore welcomed its first container vessel, the MV Nihon, on June 23, 1972.

The Nihon – image credit.

This article has been taken directly from here.