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US West Coast ports are way behind their foreign counterparts

Posted to Martin Rushmere (by on November 30, 2012

Singapore shows where the future lies

Union shenanigans at Los Angeles/Long Beach serve up yet another depressing tale of the growing gap in efficiency and dedication between US and foreign ports. Having just toured the Port of Singapore, I can vouch for this firsthand.

The best way to describe it is as a port that just keeps going – and growing. The palpable effect is a sea freeway that keeps the traffic moving, with a minimum of paperwork and formalities. Frankly, the comparison with LA/Long Beach makes US ports look like bumblers and amateurs. Simultaneous unloading/loading of vessels, 24- hour advance notice to customs of manifests (vs. 72 hours for the US), 50-60 container moves an hour, completely automated and remote controlled yard gantry cranes mounted on concrete platforms ( the yard RTGs use individual operators). In the gantry crane control room each operator is in charge of up to six units, using a dashboard and lever that would look at home in a SUV.

One big difference with the US is that the government owns the port, through its Port of Singapore Authority. But, whereas this would be a problem in the US and an easy route to inefficiency, Singapore’s mission is to increase profits and throughputs.

 Another big difference is that, being primarily a transshipment hub, there is no need to worry about thousands of trucks going through the gates and clogging up roads. Local demand and supply takes up only 5 percent of throughput.  

A big disadvantage is land. There simply isn’t any and the only way to expand is by reclamation – which will be a sizeable portion of Phases 3 and 4 of its Pasir Panjang Terminal. This will add 15 new berths, 6,000 meters of quay length and up to 18 meters draft, bringing total capacity to 50 million TEU a year when ready in 2017.

So successful has Singapore been that it now involved in more than a dozen ports around the world.

Last year, foreign volume throughput increased 5 percent, and the balance is now almost equal with the home operation, with total traffic now 59 million TEU.

Total revenue is $4.3 billion and net profit is $1.1 billion.

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