A 10.6% drop in container throughput at the Port of Hong Kong in December to 1.59m teu ended the worst year for the port since 2002 when it saw an annual volume of 19.1m teu, just 1m teu lower than the 20.1m teu handled in 2015.
For the year, throughput was down 9.5%, the second worst performance since the 14.1% drop in 2009 in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis. The trend however has been downwards since 2012 after volumes ramped up again after the crisis and peaked at 24.4m teu in 2011, although the pace of decline before this year has been at a much slower low single-digit pace.
The main terminals at the Kwai Tsing complex have taken the brunt of the hit, with throughput declining 11.5% from the year before compared to a 2.1% fall at the non-Kwai Tsing terminals.
However the writing has been on the wall, with continuous monthly declines in throughput from July 2014, although at varying rates. Plunges in volume at pivotal points such as 12.1% drop in the March post-Lunar New Year period this year, the 10.5% drop in the early high season in June and the 11.4% and 18.8% drops In August and October respectively at the peak of the busy period sent clear signs of foreboding through the industry, showing in cold, hard figures what everybody on the ground already knew.
Set against the backdrop of continued growth at mainland China and other Northeast Asian ports, the long-term trend of Hong Kong’s decline as a key port in the region seems set to continue as it keeps losing boxes to ports across the border. This has combined with still weak economies in Europe to end of a very dismal year for the former South China stalwart.
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