Shape up or ship out

Malaysia ports being urged to prepare for larger vessels (image credit)

Local port operators have been urged to upgrade their port capacity and infrastructure to accommodate ultra-large vessels in two years’ time when shipping companies are expected to take delivery of these behemoths of the sea.

Making the call, NCB Holdings Bhd Group Managing Director Abi Sofian Abdul Hamid said a port’s success is very much influenced by giant global shipping companies such as Maersk-Link, Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC), CMA-CGM, United Arab Shipping Co (UASC) and China Shipping Container Lines, which dominate the long-distance routes such as Asia-Europe.

Through alliances such as Ocean 3 and 2M, the position of international shipping companies that already have ultra-large vessels is expected to be stable until a time when other shipping firms take delivery of their own ultra-large vessels, Abi Sofian told Bernama when contacted recently.

The Ocean 3 alliance comprises CMA-CGM, China Shipping and UASC, while the 2M partnership is between Maersk and MSC.

Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas Container Line and Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines aim to have vessels with 20,000-TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) capacity for the Asia-Europe route.

“These developments show port operators that they should be ready with the capacity and facilities if they are to compete for ultra-large vessels in the period,” he added.

Both the port and shipping industries are saddled with a mismatch in demand and sailing slot/capacity, affecting freight rates and in turn the local shipping industry, he added.

The relevant quarters should have a long-term plan to meet this challenge head-on to ensure the continued competitiveness of the two industries, he said, pointing out that Port Klang needs to be better prepared to ensure container flows from ultra-large vessels do not go to other ports.

Malaysia’s cumulative container throughput is 20 million containers or 20 TEUs (twenty equivelant units), with half accounted for by Port Klang and the rest by the ports of Tanjung Pelepas, Penang, Pasir Gudang, Kuantan, Bintulu, Teluk Sepanggar and Senari.

Klang Port’s strategic location gives it a big opportunity to explore maritime trade, as other ports, like those in southern Thailand and Sumatera, are unable to meet the demand, he pointed out.

“Jakarta and Singapore are too far and would be too costly,” he said, adding all resources should be utilised in efforts to make Port Klang one of the 10 busiest ports in the world and at the same time compete with Singapore, which is building the 65-million TEU Tuas mega terminal in 2026.

Abi Sofian said existing local shipping firms have been unable to completely fill the void left by MISC.

The local shipping industry is not just about handling cargo, but also provides opportunities for locals’ involvement in various skill areas, he said, adding the focus should be on raising container terminal productivity and efficiency as well as on-deck preparedness to enhance port operations.

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