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Sinking fortunes: Hong Kong falls out of world’s top 10 busiest ports ranking for the first time as volumes slump

Container volumes have been declining at Hong Kong port for the past seven years. Above, a general view of Kwai Chung container terminal.

Posted on April 22, 2024

  • City’s port knocked to 11th place in 2023 by Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, while Shanghai and Singapore retained the top two spots, according to data from Alphaliner
  • Volumes fell by 14.1 per cent year on year to 14.3 million TEUs, continuing a slump for seven straight years amid competition from mainland ports

Hong Kong, once the world’s busiest port, failed for the first time to rank among the world’s top 10 ports in 2023, reflecting the city’s struggles to reverse a long-term decline in shipping volumes.

It was knocked to 11th place by Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, according to data from shipping data provider Alphaliner on the world’s 30 busiest container terminals.

Shanghai retained the top spot, a position it has held since 2010 when it overtook now second-placed Singapore. In total, six of the top 10 spots were held by mainland Chinese cities – Ningbo, Qingdao, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Shanghai – with Busan in South Korea, Los Angeles in the US, and Dubai rounding out the list.

The drop is bruising for Hong Kong, which was the world’s top container port for most of the period from 1987 to 2004. The city has posted seven straight years of declining shipment volumes because of steep competition from its mainland counterparts, according to Alphaliner.

The Yangshan container port is Shanghai, which has been ranked as the world’s top port since 2010.

Traffic last year slumped by 14.1 per cent from 2022 to 14.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), or the size of a standard shipping container. It marks a 21.6 per cent fall since the pre-pandemic days, with 18.3 million TEUs passing through the port in 2019.

By contrast, Shanghai handled 49.16 million TEUs in 2023, up 3.9 per cent year on year and a 13.5 per cent increase from 2019.

The increases from before the pandemic were even more dramatic at several other mainland Chinese ports. Volumes at Ningbo’s Zhoushan port, currently ranked third, grew 28.2 per cent from 2019, while traffic at Qingdao, which moved up one spot to fourth place, soared by 42.8 per cent, the biggest increase in the top 10.

“The rise of mainland-based ports has diminished the role of Hong Kong since more international shipping liners prefer loading and discharging containers in places like Shanghai and Shenzhen to better serve clients,” said Xiong Hao, assistant general manager at Shanghai Jump International Shipping.

Top 10 busiest container shipping ports worldwide


With China’s booming exports and imports showing signs of slowing down, mainland ports will compete with each other to sustain their growth momentum, he added.

The only other major port to have suffered a greater decrease in traffic than Hong Kong was New York & New Jersey, where throughput fell by 17.1 per cent to 7.8 million TEUs, according to Alphaliner.

It would be challenging for Hong Kong to reverse the decline in its fortunes, as mainland ports were extremely competitive on price and convenience, as well as having more room to expand, shipping experts previously told the Post.

Hong Kong should focus on the value of the cargo rather than the quantity, and use green and innovative technology to help the city regain its edge, one expert said.

Last December, city authorities introduced a new maritime and port development strategy aimed at rejuvenating the port, including developing high value-added maritime services and strengthening its talent pool.

Dubai, which last made the top 10 in 2018, surpassed Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port, “demonstrating the scale of economic slump in Europe”, said Alphaliner on X (formerly Twitter).

The 13th ranked Dutch port, which handled 7 per cent less cargo last year, has suffered in recent years because of “near loss” of Russian cargo as a result of the war in Ukraine, according to Alphaliner.


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