Port operator PSA Singapore has started relocating from the Tanjong Pagar Terminal ahead of the big move to eventually consolidate all container port activities at the upcoming Tuas mega-port.
The Straits Times understands that PSA has in recent months moved some workers from the city site to the Pasir Panjang Terminal, where they will pick up new skills, such as those related to operating automated equipment. No workers were retrenched.
The port leases for the terminals at Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Pulau Brani are due to expire in 2027. The move to Tuas is expected to take place before then.
The new Tuas facility - earmarked as the centrepiece of Singapore's Next Generation Port vision - will allow 65 million standard-sized containers to be handled a year, up from 40 million today. It will incorporate features such as automated yard cranes and port equipment to raise productivity and reduce labour costs, and will be able to cater to mega-vessels and the complex needs of shipping alliances.
Some of the new port technologies, such as driverless or automated guided vehicles, are being tested and used at the newer facilities at the Pasir Panjang Terminal.
Number of standard-sized containers that can be handled a year at the new Tuas facility, up from 40 million today.
All port activities at Pasir Panjang will move to Tuas by 2040, when the lease expires.
Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, said in a Facebook post on Jan 1 that the Singapore Port Workers Union is working closely to help the 700 port workers here adapt.
He added in a follow-up post: "In fact, we see strong potential for the long-term growth of our ports. We will have to use even more and better technology to help us to meet the new capacity required while creating better jobs for our port workers."
The Tanjong Pagar Terminal will remain in use until the lease expires in 2027. Container handling there will take place as and when demand arises, although the bulk of such operations have been moved to other terminals.
"Tanjong Pagar Terminal will continue to handle containers and ancillary services such as car transhipment," a PSA Corp spokesman told The Straits Times. Previously, car carriers would only berth at a designated area at Pasir Panjang Terminal.
The Straits Times understands that PSA is also exploring other maritime-related business options that may be suitable at the terminal.
Tanjong Pagar Terminal is the oldest of PSA's container terminals in Singapore. After the lease expires, the site is expected to be redeveloped into a commercial and residential district as part of the Greater Southern Waterfront City project.
An industry watcher noted that the yard at Tanjong Pagar Terminal is not deep enough to service the mega-vessels that are increasingly being used today. Together with the Keppel and Brani terminals, it is "never going to be as efficient as the Pasir Panjang Terminal, or ultimately the Tuas Terminal", he said.
"But they will be phased out some time between 2022 and 2027, and I would consider that good progress," he said, noting that once a terminal has been well utilised for more than 20 years, the fixed assets would also need to be replaced.
"Handling freight also consumes a lot of space, generates limited direct gross domestic product contribution and is pollutive, and therefore not really well suited for inner cities," added the analyst.
"Boat Quay used to be a cargo and ship centre. I think we prefer Boat Quay as it is today. We will also prefer Tanjong Pagar Terminal as it will be tomorrow."