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Asia's seaport tech

Jimmy Yap | July 20, 2008
Former British colonies Singapore and Hong Kong, set up as strategic free seaports to service world trade through the region, rose to power largely on the economic activities of their harbours. The comparisons and competition continues today with IT streamlining port operations.

In the last few decades, the ports of Hong Kong and Singapore have dominated the top two slots in the global league table of busiest container ports. Except for three years (1990, 1991 and 1998, when Singapore briefly held first place), Hong Kong has been the busiest container port between 1987 and 2004.

In 2005, the Lion City overtook Hong Kong in terms of containers handled and has held first place ever since.

Technology certainly helped Singapore clinch first place, though Hong Kongs current third positionShanghai has overtaken it as wellis probably more the result of greater local competition. Hong

Kong is no longer the sole gateway to China, especially with the rise of the ports of Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The ability of container ships to unload cargo and take on new loads quickly, relies very much on the technology used by the port authorities and terminal operators. The terminal operators handle the actual loading and unloading of ships. They use technology to help them plan the whole process, how to load and unload cargo, how to transport the cargo to and from container yards, and even how and where to stack the containers in an optimum fashion. Port authorities, on the other hand, rely on technology to monitor the safety of the waters and handle the paperwork, so that ships can enter and leave the respective ports quickly and easily, without compromising the safety of other port users.

Both ports rely on similar technologies to process ships and cargo quickly. Where both differ, is in the speed of adoption of new technology. Singapore regularly leads the way in terms of deploying new technology, possibly driven by Hong Kongs long stretch of unchallenged supremacy.

Speeding up the administration and information flow is one of the easiest and fastest ways to improve efficiency. Both Singapore and Hong Kong offer electronic port clearance to enable ships to enter or leave their respective waters quickly.

Online submission

Singapores Maritime and Port Authority developed and launched Marinet in April 1999. Marinet allowed the shipping community to submit statutory declarations for vessel arrivals and departures, dangerous goods, and information on bunker operations to the MPA online. Processing and validation are done online and approvals are granted immediately within a single transaction. Marinet also facilitates the online application of licences and permits issued by the MPA. Some of these services include applications for a temporary harbour craft permit. It also acts as a one-stop facility for shipping agents to order pilotage and towage services from any of the licensed tug operators servicing the port. Marinet currently has almost 4,000 users from some 1,200 companies, according to Toh Ah Cheong, director (Technology) at the MPA.


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