Hong Kong is home to one of the busiest ports in the world, but that was almost not the case. Lengthy delays and a lack of urgency meant the colony was late to join the container era
“Moving Cargo in Containers,” ran a headline in the South China Morning Post on January 27, 1967. “The Container Committee has recommended to Government that facilities for the handling of container ships should be established in the port of Hongkong,” the story continued.
The committee, set up in July 1966, proposed the development of Kwai Chung (estimated at the time to cost HK$280 million) for containerisation. “During the early months of 1966 it was apparent that a considerable new impetus was being given to the development of container cargo services throughout the world,” the report said.
“Unless a container terminal was available in Hongkong to serve [container] ships, the trading position of the Colony would be affected detrimentally,” the Post stated on February 1, 1967.
It would be some time, however, before the container port received the green light.
On May 7, 1970, director general of the Port of London Authority, Dudley Perkins, told the newspaper: “While Hongkong has left it late, it is not too late […] The building of these berths is urgent, and Hongkong must continue to move ahead fast.”
In August, three companies were awarded tenders for three of the four berths at the Kwai Chung site: Modern Terminals, Kowloon Container Warehouse and Sea-Land Orient.
Said Kerry St Johnston, of Overseas Containers, on August 5, 1972, “The end of the beginning is in sight […] Hongkong’s principal trading partners are already wedded to the container. They are only waiting for Hongkong to bless their marriage.”
This happened on September 5, the Post reporting: “Tokyo Bay, a 58,000-ton giant of the ‘third generation’ container era, today ties up at the first $156 million berth of our new container port complex at Kwai Chung.”
The occasion was a muted affair; the Modern Terminals berth was yet to be completed. However, an article in the Post the following day could not resist but point out, “Despite this, the crane operator at Kwai Chung yesterday could have taken three-quarters of the day off and still run rings around his Singapore counterparts.”
You can find the article by Mercedes Hutton at the following link: