Laem Chabang Port’s continued strong growth is a testament to Thailand’s appeal as an export hub and gateway to the region. To alleviate the pressure of higher demand and to build towards future strong sustainable growth, Hutchison Ports Thailand recently held an event to celebrate the groundbreaking of Terminal D (see photo gallery at the end of the article).
We had the chance to speak with Mr. Stephen Ashworth, Managing Director – Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand & Vietnam at Hutchison Ports, at the event about what this means for their group and the vision they have for the future of Terminal D.
Answering a Burgeoning Economy
Hutchison Ports Thailand is the largest terminal operator at Laem Chabang Port, yet their existing terminals at A2, A3, C1 and C2 are currently operating at close to capacity, especially during the peak weekend period. The groundbreaking event was a watershed moment for Hutchison Ports as the additional capacity of new D-series terminals means that the group can meet the anticipated growing demand of the market going forward.
Mr. Ashworth mentioned that container growth in Thailand is strongly correlated to GDP, which even through recent challenging years of somewhat slower economic growth, is still in the 3% – 4% range. However, the government’s recently announced plans to start the Eastern Economic Corridor Development Project is expected to drive further growth in the future which means that this is the ideal time for Hutchison Ports Thailand to start the construction of Terminal D.
“The initial Phase 1A of Terminal D will be comprised of 400 metres of deep water berth, 3 super post panamax quay cranes and 10 supporting yard cranes, and should be operational by around the middle of 2018,” said Mr. Ashworth. “By the middle of 2019, the remaining Phase 1B of this first phase of Terminal D will be completed delivering a combined total of 1,000 metres of berth, 6 quay cranes and 20 supporting yard cranes. Terminal D will be capable of servicing the largest container vessels currently in operation, and this is where we believe we’re differentiating ourselves from other terminal operators. We’re really designing this as a premium terminal for our customers who are looking to deploy larger vessels to Laem Chabang Port in order to stay competitive and realize cost savings. Our niche market is going to be for these larger long haul vessels operating the shipping routes to North America and Europe. However, while we’re designing the terminal with larger vessels in mind, it doesn’t mean that we won’t accommodate smaller feeder and intra-asia type vessels there. The terminal will be available to any of our customers. We’re flexible already with the terminal space we have at Laem Chabang, but this opens up and gives us even more flexibility.”
I can see vessel sizes continuing to get larger and having cranes that will be able to service these vessels will be crucial. We are building for the future and investing in equipment capable of meeting our operational needs in the long-term.
Bringing in additional capacity and the ability to service larger vessels is a highlight for the new terminal, but another spotlight should be shown on the additional technology being implemented at the terminal. The use of remote control technology to operate the cranes will be a first for Thailand and will make Terminal D one of the largest terminals in the world to be operated entirely by equipment using a remote control mode of operation. Mr. Ashworth said, “Terminal D will feature gantry cranes with no operator sitting at the top of the crane, we might not even have a cab on the crane. If you look at global port infrastructure, a lot of terminals are moving to this type of operation. In 20 years I think it will be unusual to see a terminal running under a conventional mode. We’re expecting to achieve an increase in crane productivity but more importantly, it’s also a big health and safety benefit by not having an operator working on the crane. It’s certainly appealing to our staff at the terminal to be able to work in the comfort of an office environment and there are the safety benefits. We’re looking at centralizing the operators of the gantry cranes in an operations centre with screens, consoles, and they are essentially monitoring the automatic lifting of containers on and off the vessels and within the yard.”
“What we’re trying to do is learn from our sister terminals that are already using this technology. We’ll be able to send staff to these terminals to train and learn so when the first phase of Terminal D comes online, we should have a lot of knowledge already in place. Once completed, Terminal D will be the group’s flagship terminal for the region, and it will be used as a platform for training our operators and taking our people from all over the region and bringing them here to train.”
Hutchison Ports Thailand is investing into the new terminal with cranes that will be sufficiently large to meet the anticipated increase in vessel size. Mr. Ashworth sees this as the right answer, investing into the type of equipment that the terminal will grow into. “I can see vessel sizes continuing to get larger and having cranes that will be able to service these vessels will be crucial. We are building for the future and investing in equipment capable of meeting our operational needs in the long-term.”
What we’re trying to do is learn from our sister terminals that are already using this technology. We’ll be able to send staff to these terminals to train and learn so when the first phase of Terminal D comes online, we should have a lot of knowledge already in place. Once completed, Terminal D will be the group’s flagship terminal for the region, and it will be used as a platform for training our operators and taking our people from all over the region and bringing them here to train
Mr. Ashworth concluded by saying, “Investing into new infrastructure is always a risky endeavor, but one we think is worth it given Thailand’s outlook and the economic initiatives the government is enacting. However, for us to succeed Thailand must maintain its competitiveness; we’re hoping Thailand can move to the next level. Thailand is doing great with big export markets in the EU, China, Japan, and USA, and ASEAN. Automobile parts, consumables, air conditioning units, furniture, and other export commodities are strong. Laem Chabang Port has the tools and the ability to maybe even turn into more of a transshipment port in the future. It’s already happening to some degree and we could see it becoming an even more important part of the port’s strategy in the future. We’re hoping that the new Terminal D will lead to new opportunities for both us and the port, and we’re looking to grow alongside Thailand.”
Photo Gallery of Event