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How the figures stack up

Cargo Systems is extremely grateful to the world’s port authorities and terminal operators, which have has assisted in providing the information contained in this year’s edition of the Top 100 Container Ports. There are, however, sometimes inconsistencies between

figures provided by the ports, terminals, government departments and non-governmental organisations. In several cases we have to make decisions, based on the judgement of our contributors, and our contacts at individual terminals, shipping lines, agents, and so forth. One of the difficulties in undertaking a survey of the

world’s largest container ports is defining exactly where a port begins and ends. At first sight this may seem relatively easy, but it is not always. Evidently, we are helped by the remit of port authorities, part of whose job it is to collect statistics such as cargo volumes and vessel calls. In some cases, though, it seems natural to amalgamate

the throughputs of certain ports or terminals that ostensibly form one hub or gateway, but are not bound together by the same port authority. For instance, while PSA is quite obviously the

dominant operator in Singapore, Jurong’s facilities had a throughput roughly equivalent to San Antonio. It seems natural when talking about the container port of Singapore, that Jurong and PSA are rolled into one. Another example is the myriad terminals – some

government-operated and others privately owned – dotted along the Saigon River serving Ho Chi Minh City, which we collectively count as Ho Chi Minh.


For the fifth year running, we have stretched the boundaries to talk about a “greater Istanbul” port. The Turkish port of Ambarli, near Istanbul, has been an up-and-coming container hub for several years. However, with a series of developments underway at the nearby Haydarpasa area, it seems natural to count their figures together. In the local context of shipping in the Bosporus, this might be too general a definition, but for the purposes of a global survey, where regional and inter-continental trends are being analysed, it makes sense. Perhaps more contentious is our definition of Panama –

both Atlantic and Pacific coasts – as one port complex. There are undeniably different dynamics at work at either end of the Canal, and by and large Balboa serves different trades to the terminals at Colon. However, Panama has embarked on a strategy of becoming an international maritime hub, and certainly many of the port people there see it as such. It is also worth remembering that the distance between Colon and Balboa is about the same as Rotterdam city centre to the Maasvlakte.

August 2010 Conversely, Los Angeles and Long Beach, which are so

close that they are divided only by a fence, comprise one of the great modern shipping gateways. If combined, they would create the west’s answer to the behemoth ports of Asia. However, they are under separate port authorities, and their independence from each other is fiercely guarded, especially given the separate sources of funding and all the other advantages that independence brings.


In some cases, boundaries change. For instance, the Chinese Ministry of Transport has redefined port boundaries to amalgamate the smaller terminals in the several port areas in Foshan city. Hence, an official aggregate throughput of Foshan port appears on the Ministry’s official list of leading container ports for the first time in 2009 and Foshan make its debut in this edition of the Top100 as the world’s 37th busiest box port. However, we have not revised the 2008 rankings to include Foshan, which, notionally, would have ranked 42nd in that year. During the course of the last year, some ports and

terminals have revised or updated their 2008 throughput figures for one reason or another. Such changes are reflected in the figures published in this edition, in order to provide a true picture of the rate of change year-on- year. In some cases such revisions will change the port’s 2008 rank shown in the league table and will therefore affect that year’s rank for certain other ports in the Top 100. Notably, Durban revised its 2008 figure down from 2,642,165teu to 2,323,563teu, meaning that its 2008 ranking changed from 43 to 45. Cargo Systems appreciates that many ports handle

significant numbers of ro-ro units. There is a move by ports like Gothenburg – which handled over a million 20ft ro-ro units (rteu) in addition to 817,616teu of lo-lo containers – and the trade association Port of Sweden to encourage the adoption of the term “rteu” in the port world, to enable accurate comparisons of the ro-ro volumes. However, for the time being, this survey specifically counts only lo-lo containers. Of course, none of these definitions are set in stone and

in many cases it is a matter of six of one and half a dozen of the other. Cargo Systems welcomes reader feedback and is happy to consider adjusting the methodology if there are sufficient grounds for it. After all, this a market-driven publication and it aims to reflect the market as best as it can. If you would like to comment on the methodology of

Cargo Systems Top 100 Container Ports, or if you want to keep us up to date with your port’s statistics or any other ports news, please email the editor at: 5

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