Hutchison Ports leverages technologies to improve container handling

HONG KONG global terminal operator Hutchison Ports has been introducing new technologies at its facilities to increase efficiency.

This comes as rapidly increasing intra-Asia trade volumes have resulted to congestion and delays at some ports in the region. Citing industry figures, Hutchison Ports noted that intra-Asia container volumes are expected to rise from 31 million TEU this year to 34 million TEU in 2020.

Noting the complex and fast-moving nature of the intra-Asia trade, head of research and analysis Helen Li said these included high service frequency, requirements for quick vessel turnaround time, transshipment connectivity requirements and late instructions or last-minute changes.

"Because of the nature of the intra-Asia trade, the requirements it places on ports and terminals is the need for flexibility and efficiency. This creates challenges to terminal operations in yard shuffling needs, as well as transshipment and operational complexity," Ms Li said, reported Colchester Seatrade Maritime News.

Although equipment issues have been blamed for the congestion and delays, with the lack of availability of quay cranes at many smaller Asian ports seen as reducing the number of moves per hour, part of the problem can also be attributed to the characteristics of smaller vessels which also restricts the number of cranes that can be deployed.

"The smaller vessel sizes and shorter vessel lengths of intra-Asia vessels (approximately 1,500 TEU) makes it more difficult for terminals to achieve higher productivity because operators would not be able to deploy as many cranes to service these smaller vessels," said Ms Li.

To mitigate the time shipping lines lose to delays caused by congestion, bad weather and the knock-on effect of extended waiting time on other Asian ports, Hutchison Ports works closely with carriers towards improvement in operations planning, handling efficiency and fine-tuning the capabilities required to cater to the needs of customers.

"Our terminals co-ordinate with shipping line customers to make adjustments to the berth plan to spread out the workload as much as possible. We will alert shipping lines in advance to changes in our berthing situation so that they can make the required adjustments to their sailing schedules and port calls accordingly," said Ms Li.

In addition, investments have been made in the latest equipment such as at Hutchison Ports Thailand's Laem Chabang Terminal D, which has become the world's first port facility to operate both remote-control quay cranes and rubber-tired gantry cranes.