Ahead of the upcoming Hong Kong Maritime Week, Splash today launches its latest magazine – a 56-page assessment of where this Special Administrative Region sits on the global maritime map.
Traditional trading entrepôt on the doorstep of China, Hong Kong continues to enjoy prominence as a major maritime hub not only due to its high number of shipowners, charterers and managers but also thank to its strategic position as a ‘super connector’ between mainland China and the outside world. Often referred to as ‘Asia’s World City’, now it also enjoys a new identity as part of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA) incorporating Shenzhen, China’s fourth largest city.
China’s latest Five-Year Plan and the Outline Development Plan for the GBA clearly support Hong Kong’s continuing development of high value-added maritime services in order to consolidate its position as an international maritime centre, states the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board (HKMPB), a strategy likewise reiterated by Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) chief executive John Lee in his latest policy address given at the end of October.
To this end, the HKSAR government “proactively enhances the competitiveness of the maritime sector through various measures,” says the HKMPB. These include a series of tax concessions to attract the setting up of high-value maritime business establishments in the city; establishment of a task force to put forward an action plan on strategies to further promote the development of Hong Kong as an international maritime centre; and additional funding support of manpower training for homegrown talent.
In addition, Hong Kong’s Transport and Logistics Bureau (TLB) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Greater Bay maritime co-operation with the Guangzhou Port Authority (GPA) earlier this year – “a concrete example of tapping the GBA synergy to enhance mutual competitiveness,” according to Hong Kong’s secretary for transport and logistics, Lam Sai-hun
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Hong Kong port has long been a transhipment hub for the region, notes the HKMPB, renowned for its high efficiency, strong connectivity and wide coverage, while Guangzhou port mainly handles domestic and foreign trade. The MoU will therefore enable “a differential development of the ports in the two places on the principle of complementarity,” it says, “collectively benefiting the manufacturing industry as well as the import and export trade in the GBA and southern China area.”
Lam went on to avow that with its “talent, unique strengths and well-developed maritime cluster, Hong Kong will continue to play an important role in the provision of high value-added professional services to the global maritime industry. With the synergy between the government and the maritime sector, Hong Kong is also well positioned to contribute to the further development of the maritime capability of the GBA.”
Splash asked various leading figures in the Hong Kong maritime community to give their view on the city’s current status as an international maritime centre (IMC) – as well as on its greatest strengths, weaknesses and efforts to attract and retain suitable talent.
A recurring theme in answers to the IMC question was an assertion that Hong Kong remains a highly dynamic and cosmopolitan city, still living up to its tagline of ‘Asia’s World City’, and an attractive place for people around the world to come and live – despite some recent negative perceptions outside the territory to the contrary. And while increased regional competition means the port has indeed lost its former world-leading role for some years now, conversely the city’s strengths in maritime professional business services – such as shipmanagement, ship registry, insurance, maritime law, and finance – have only continued to grow.
Harry Banga is a longtime resident of the city as chairman and CEO of the Caravel Group, which marks its 10th anniversary this November, and before that a senior figure with global trading house Noble. He remarks that “Hong Kong as a maritime hub has consistently shown its mettle through industry peaks and troughs, reflecting the strength, depth, and breadth of the talent and companies here.”
Hong Kong’s geographical proximity to leading shipbuilding nations China, Korea and Japan, as well as to major crew supplier countries like the Philippines and India, is also a great asset for Hong Kong’s shipowning and management community, according to Banga.
Lawyer Rosita Lau, a partner with Ince & Co Hong Kong, agrees. While she concedes that some shipowners have moved their business to elsewhere in Asia or closed their Hong Kong branch, she also points to other instances where the city’s status has been elevated in the maritime arena. Examples include BIMCO having named Hong Kong as one of only four arbitration seats in its standard contracts, as well as the arrival of more International Group Protection and Indemnity (P&I) Clubs. China Merchants Group also now hosts its heavyweight Merchant Marine Forum in Hong Kong annually since 2021, she notes.
China’s international city
Former banker Kenneth Lam, now running new ship leasing company SeaKapital that he established jointly with Sabrina Chao this year, agrees that Hong Kong’s position has not changed dramatically. “Covid certainly has disrupted things for Hong Kong,” he says, “Owing to a longer than expected travel restriction policy, some people have left but they are returning as we speak.
“Shipping is a very international business,” he continues. “Having a workforce that can connect the world and starting with being the only city in China that practices common law, Hong Kong has the necessary ingredients to continue to be a meaningful international city. After all, it is clearly stated in both China’s 13th and 14th Five Year Plans that Hong Kong is China’s international city in finance, shipping and Trade; there will continue to be policies and measures from both the state and HK governments to ensure that this is the case.”
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Also, main rival Singapore’s greatest perceived advantage over Hong Kong as an international maritime centre, namely its lower cost base, is fast waning due to the recent inflationary pressures in that city, believes Gautam Chellaram, chairman of KC Maritime.
On the following pages can be found a summary of some of the key latest developments in the city’s different maritime sectors – including the port, ship registry, shipmanagers, start-ups and an account of how Hong Kong’s shipowners are embracing the challenge of decarbonisation and investing in new, more efficient and environmentally friendly ‘eco’ ships.
And visitors to the city will soon be able to see and gain a taste of the latter for themselves. Sun Ferry Services is currently in the process of developing a new Urban Sprinter 100 series of hybrid diesel/electric double-ended craft that will ferry passengers around Victoria Harbour and outlying islands using zero-emission battery propulsion within pier boundaries and for berthing operations. A first vessel is expected to be operational in the second half of 2024 and a second in early 2025.
Long an advocate of green operations at its main port having been one of the first authorities worldwide to offer fee reductions for environmentally friendly vessels that call, Hong Kong will be moving towards ensuring that waterborne activities in its iconic city-centre harbour are as ‘eco’ as possible as well.
Splash readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here. It will be distributed at multiple events next week.