xpansion is a byword at the Singapore port. Since work began on its first deep-water berths at the East Lagoon in 1966, it has kept on expanding in anticipation of ever-growing demand. From a single berth in 1972, Singapore now has 60 container berths capable of handling 40 million TEUs, with plans for a mammoth new terminal.
When completed in 2040, the Tuas Terminal will have a container-handling capacity of 65 million TEUs of cargo, almost double what Singapore handled in 2017. Built in four phases, it will be the single largest container terminal in the world.
By then, pundits expect demand along the Straits of Malacca alone to be in excess of 100 million TEUs.
The seeds for the development of Tuas were sown in 2010. Singapore’s Economic Strategies Committee proposed to the Urban Redevelopment Authority that at the next review of its Concept Plan in 2011 it should consider the feasibility of having a consolidated port with enough capacity to ensure the nation’s competitiveness in the long term.
Consolidating the port in one location instead of four – Brani, Keppel, Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang – has definite advantages. It reduces the distance and complexity of inter-terminal transfers for greater efficiency, and it takes the pressure off already crowded roads.
The idea was explored and approved, and the plans unveiled by then Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew in October 2012. Mr Lui noted, “Shipping will continue to be the lifeblood of Singapore’s economy far into the future. We therefore take a very long-term view of the Singapore Port and its growth. As some of you are aware, the port leases for the City Terminals at Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Pulau Brani will expire in 2027. With this in mind, we have studied the feasibility of building a consolidated port as recommended by the Economic Strategies Committee… I am pleased to announce that we will work towards consolidating all our container port activities at Tuas over the long term.”
Tuas is ideally suited for the purpose. It is located in sheltered deep waters in close proximity to international shipping routes. It is also close to Singapore’s major industrial estates, located mainly in the country’s west.
Tuas was considered as a strong candidate for port development back in the early 1990s but it was passed over in favour of Pasir Panjang. As the existing ports were located in the city, port operator PSA favoured Pasir Panjang over Tuas for expansion as it would allow it to operate its container business as one complete system resulting in cost savings of several hundred million dollars a year.
Tuas – The New Generation Port
Developing the port from ground up will enable Singapore to build a port for a different age. Ships are getting much bigger. The largest container vessels afloat can carry over 20,000 TEUs and bigger units are being built. The upsized ships require deeper waters, larger cranes and longer berths.
For starters, Tuas will have long linear berths and a depth of 23 metres below sea level at the basins and approach channels, capable of handling ships with capacity of more than 24,000 TEUs. Constructing the new facility at a green field location also offers a blank slate for new land-use concepts to be tested, evaluated and integrated with the container terminal.
“We should not restrict ourselves to traditional port layouts. One of these new land-use concepts is to develop a platform above part of the container port on which port-related and industrial developments, such as container freight stations, logistics hubs and other facilities, can be developed to intensify land-use,” said MPA’s chief executive Andrew Tan.
“The aboveground space development over part of the new mega container port could create significant land area for the development of a cluster of maritime and port business activities, including amenities and possibly commercial-residential areas for those working in the area to form a component of the future Tuas Maritime Hub,” he added.
To improve handling capability and efficiency new technologies and systems will be incorporated, some of which are currently being put to the test.
As Tay Eng Kng, Vice-President (Container Terminal Engineering) at PSA Corporation told the MPA’s in-house magazine, Nautilus, “We have two berths dedicated to automation development at our PSA Living Lab; they are set up to operationalise some of these concepts ahead of the commencement of operations at our mega port in Tuas in 2021. The things we are implementing include automated yard cranes, remotely operated quay cranes, platooning technology, and automated pre-emptive maintenance to enhance equipment reliability and raise workforce productivity.”
As digitisation is changing business models and the way businesses operate, Tuas will embrace digitisation, using big data and predictive analytics capabilities to manage data and share reports on oceanographic and meteorological conditions, maritime traffic and cargo flow, material and machinery performance and even passengers’ and seafarers’ information. Built-in algorithms will be able to detect anomalies in vessel traffic patterns and contribute to safer operations.
Technology is continuing to advance even as the port is being developed. “Even as we adopt the first generation of technologies, we will need to test new technologies as they avail themselves,” said Mr Tan.
By keeping ahead of the curve, Singapore will be able to keep ahead of the competition and remain the premier transhipment hub for shipping and trade.