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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 addition, the MPA has implemented an initiative to automatically track and monitor small powered harbour and pleasure craft in Singapores port waters. The harbour craft transponder system (HARTS) was rolled out in early 2007. All such craft will need to carry a transponder on them that is turned on when they are in Singapore waters. The system allows real time data from the transponder such as vessel identity, position, speed, course and other information are transmitted to a shore-based system via the wireless communication link. There is also a panic button to alert the control centre if there is a security threat or emergency. The system was developed by MPA, and jointly implemented by the MPA, the Police Coast Guard and Republic of Singapore Navy.

Containing containers

While the port authorities handle the big picture, it is the terminal operators who must ensure that ships are able to load and unload quickly; no easy task because of the volume of work, the need for speed and safety, and the need to manage the inventory of containers, cranes and trucks in the container yard. Terminal operators rely heavily on technology to help them do this.

Singapore has two terminal operators, but PSA Singapore Terminals is, by far, the largest. In 2007, PSA Singapore Terminals, with its four terminals, alone handled 27.1 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) out of the 27.9 TEU handled by the entire port. PSA used to be the port authority, but no longer. Since 1996, PSA Singapore Terminals has become a terminal operator, while the MPA has become the regulator.

Hong Kong, on the other hand, has five different terminal operatorsHongkong International Terminals (HIT), Modern Terminals, COSCO Pacific, Dubai Port International Terminals and Asia Container Terminals. Of the five operators, HIT is the largest. Situated in the Kwai Chung container port area of Hong Kong, HIT operates 12 berths and another two through its joint venture with COSCO Pacific. In 2006, HIT and COSCO-HIT handled a combined throughput of 8.235 million TEU. HIT is the flagship operation of the Hutchison Port Holdings Group.

Both PSA Singapore Terminals and HIT rely heavily on IT. Both have adopted electronic data interchange (EDI) systems to allow paperwork to be filed faster. In addition, both rely on IT systems to help them unload, transport, store and subsequently reload ships.

PSA Singapore Terminals has two major systems, Portnet and CITOS, that help them be efficient. Developed in 1984, Portnet is an electronic paperless platform for shipping lines, hauliers, freight forwarders and local government agencies, including Customs, to better communicate with the port and with each other. Shipping companies can use it to relay cargo instructions, order berth and pilot services, documentation, enquiry and real-time tracking.


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