The reach of ports as crucial trade facilitators extend far and wide beyond their perimeters to affect the movement of goods, flow of trade, development of markets and economies, and even on the pricing of products. They have become such critical trade components that the economic or trade development strategies of trade-dependent nations inevitably incorporate the planning, organisation, development and promotion of their seaports as a key component of the maritime sector.
There are many trends affecting global ports which have exerted massive influence in the way they are planned, developed, operated, positioned and marketed, and even in the manner they are being perceived by policy planners, economists, investors, operators and users. Among the most important ones are:
- Consolidation of port operations and continued investments of port operators in other ports worldwide
- Changing trends in production and consumption of goods and materials
- Changing patterns in distribution and trade transport
- Joint investment by port operators and private companies in various maritime activities
- Increasing cooperation among ports to share resources in capacity building
- Enhanced focus on security and safety
- Changing composition of port ownership
- Increasing involvement of shipping companies in container port development
- Increased attention to handling bigger, more sophisticated ships carrying greater volumes of cargo
- Intense use of technology and IT applications to assist port operations
- Increased focus on improving tariff structure as a competitive strategy
- The introduction of value-added services and infrastructures such as free zones and distriparks at ports to attract industries
- Increased focus on intermodal linkages
These trends will continue to shape the planning, organisation, development, management and operation of seaports worldwide in the years to come. Port authorities and terminal operators will have to adjust their strategies, development and operations to suit the dynamics and realities of the port business and trade environment. As such, they must pull all the stops to keep pace with trends and developments affecting the maritime sector, especially in areas such as shipping, intermodal transportation, production, economics and trade.
Dalian Port, China
Challenges are abound for port stakeholders to plan their development well, enhance their infrastructure and capacity, and stay abreast with state-of-the-art technologies to increase productivity. They must also organise operations efficiently, develop manpower and expertise, invest wisely and allocate resources effectively to cater to greater trade volume, bigger vessel capacity and increasingly demanding users.
Once the current slump in global maritime trade and the credit crunch reach bottom and the world economy recovers, ports should once again handle the kind of shipping traffic and throughput volumes they were accustomed to prior to the crisis.
Once things get back on even keel, there is every reason to believe that the global economy and trade will grow again. When that happens, and when economies become more interdependent and markets increasingly liberalised, maritime trade and port throughput will be restored to healthy levels and will once again embark on an upward trajectory which was abruptly interrupted by the current global recession.
When the clouds past and a semblance of order is restored in global trade and the maritime sector, ports will be expected to play an immense role to facilitate international trade again. The future development of seaports is set to be marked by an increasing need to adequately cater to longer and wider vessels with bigger capacity and better technology, and to support greater cargo volumes.
To live up to these challenges, port operators must gear themselves to accommodate the trend of ship upsizing which will require deeper draught, higher crane productivity to minimise berthing time and to enable vessels to maintain their voyage schedule. Even the smaller ports should have plans in place to expand their capacity for the upsizing trend. What were once mother vessels a decade ago have been relegated to feeder vessels; for example 2,000TEU boxships servicing the intra-Asian trade. In fact, the capacity of feeder vessels is also seen to grow to feed even larger mother vessels in the future.
Port of Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia
Ports are tripping over themselves to offer comprehensive, value-added logistics services to attract more users. Take Malaysia for example, where its major seaports are busy expanding their scope of services and capacity in line with the governmentâ€™s ambition to enhance the nationâ€™s position as a regional shipping hub and a distribution centre. The efforts of terminal operators in Port Klang and Port of Tanjung Pelepas to establish free zones within their premises as a strategy to provide value-adding services to their users underline their intention to present an attractive package of attractive investment opportunities and quality port services to attract investors and users. This is all the more pressing in the wake of the current credit squeeze and increasing competition among ports to attract investments.
Seaports are also expected to be more involved in logistics services, undertaken either alone or via strategic alliances with logistics operators. Mirroring a worldwide trend of the evolving role of ports, seaports are poised to act more as transit points of cargos within the intermodal transport network than mere recipients, processors and distributors of cargos. Meeting such challenges emanating from an ever-evolving trade and production dynamics and a world in constant flux will demand huge capital outlay, meticulous planning, high degree of responsiveness, trained and talented human capital, acute sense of anticipation and unwavering commitment to follow up on strategies laid out on the part of port owners, authorities and operators.