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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.

Hong Kongs marine department introduced its equivalent, the electronic business system, in December 2003, with the second phase of the system rolled out earlier this year. Under the first phase, a ships agent could file the paperwork electronically using a web-based interface. Once approval was given, someone would have to go down to the counter to make payment.

The rollout of the second phase, in April this year, means everything is now done electronically, including payment. And apart from the marine department, paperwork that has to be filed with the immigration department and the department of health, can also be filed through EBS.

The whole process now takes less than 10 minutes, notes senior marine officer Michael Chau, the head of the IT management section of the marine department. The long-term aim is to make EBS the shipping portal for Hong Kongs shipping community, he says.

Dangerous goods documentation

Related to the EBS is electronic submission of the dangerous goods manifest. Introduced in 2006, this allows registered shipping companies to submit their dangerous good manifest in XML format to the Marine Department, using a web interface. This was the first time that systems from private enterprise, namely the shipping industry, talked directly to the governments system, according to Chau.

The entire system is automated now, even on the Marine Departments end. If the paperwork is in order, the system can issue the approval immediately. Previously, everything had to be manually approved, which could take up to half a day. The success of this system was that in 2007, 95 per cent of dangerous good manifest submissions were done online.

Apart from using technology to speed up the information flow, IT is also used to improve the monitoring of ships in the port. In the old days, ports relied on people using radio and telescopes. Today, both Singapore and Hong Kong use advanced radar and communications systems to monitor ships in their waters.

The Marine Departments Vessel Traffic Centre (VTC) uses a vessel traffic system to track all vessels in Hong Kong waters. This system involves nine radars, covering all major shipping areas and their approaches. Together with a fully integrated radio and communication system and a database information system, VTC provides full surveillance of all navigable waters in Hong Kong.

Set up in 1989, the Vessel Traffic System is a vast improvement over the traditional method used by the ports old communication centre. That relied on VHF radio and a hand-held telescope for the watch-keepers to check a vessels movement. This limited the monitoring as it depended on the vessels being within the line of sight.

Vessel monitoring in Singapore is also very advanced. The MPA has two Port Operations Control Centres (POCCs) that monitor traffic in the eastern and western part of Singapores port waters, as well as traffic in the Singapore Strait. Both centres use a Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS) which serve as full back-up for each other. The system uses 11 radars and can monitor up to 5,000 vessels in real-time. Each POCC has 13 VTIS work stations to monitor different sectors of the ports waters and the Singapore Strait.


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