S’pore ports handled second-highest number of containers in 2022 despite fall in global container trade

A total of 37.3 million 20-ft equivalent units of containers passed through Singapore ports in 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Singapore handled the second-highest number of containers on record in 2022 to retain its position as the world’s largest transshipment port, even as global container trade declined.

A total of 37.3 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers passed through Singapore in 2022, a dip of 0.7 per cent from the record high of 37.6 million TEUs in 2021. Global container trade fell by 3 per cent to 4 per cent in comparison.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat said Singapore’s port remained resilient despite overall trade and container volumes being adversely affected by the slowdown in production and consumption in the major economies.

Speaking at the Singapore Maritime Foundation New Year Conversations event on Friday, Mr Chee said: “Importantly, we retained our position as the world’s largest transshipment port.

“And during the (Covid-19) pandemic, we enhanced Singapore’s connectivity and strengthened our position as a catch-up port for shipping lines, contributing to the resilience of global supply chains,” he added.

Figures released by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) on Friday showed that Singapore’s terminals handled 577.7 million tonnes of cargo in 2022. The Republic handled 599 million tonnes of cargo in 2021.

At the same time, Singapore has made progress in supplying alternative fuels, such as biofuels, to support maritime decarbonisation.

While the total volume of bunker sales fell by 4.3 per cent in 2022 from that in 2021, bunker sales included about 140,000 tonnes of biofuel blends, surpassing the 16,000 tonnes in liquefied natural gas bunker sales, said MPA.

Bunkering is the process of supplying fuels to ships for their own use.

MPA has developed a framework for licensed bunker suppliers to supply biofuel blends to vessels within the Port of Singapore. Currently, commercial sales of biofuel blends of up to B24 – a blend where biofuel makes up 24 per cent of the marine fuel – are available for the maritime sector here.

In December 2022, MPA and the Energy Market Authority also called for proposals to build and operate low- or zero-carbon ammonia power generation and bunkering solutions on Jurong Island. 

Under programmes supported by MPA, more than 30 companies established or expanded their operations in Singapore in 2022. This is 30 per cent more than in 2021.

MPA is also inching closer to its goal of launching 150 marinetech start-ups by 2025. 

The number of start-ups established under the Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined @ Block71 (or Pier71) has grown from 17 in 2018 to almost 100 in 2022.

Pier71 is an ecosystem that supports firms with novel ideas, linking them with technology partners, investors and customers.

These start-ups have raised more than $50 million in investment since 2018, and four have expanded overseas.

Mr Chee said global economic growth is expected to slow in 2023, but he remains optimistic in Maritime Singapore’s potential to achieve growth over the medium to longer term.

He cited difficulties such as supply chains becoming more complex as governments and companies reconfigure their supply chains to enhance resilience.

But Singapore needs to stay ahead by developing stronger capabilities in digitalisation and decarbonisation, he said.

“There is room for further growth in the maritime sector, and we can achieve this through continued investments in capability-building, talent development and innovation, anchored by our strong tripartite partnership,” he said.

Nanyang Technological University’s Associate Professor Jasmine Lam, the director of Maritime Energy and Sustainable Development Centre of Excellence, said that the 0.7 per cent dip in TEUs in 2022 is significantly lower than the global container trade reduction of 3 per cent to 4 per cent. 

“This shows that Singapore has done better than other ports and continues to be competitive,” she said.

Prof Lam added that as an international transhipment hub, cargo throughput of the Port of Singapore is inevitably subjected to external factors such as the global economic and trade performance.

Associate Professor Yap Wei Yim, head of Singapore University of Social Sciences’ maritime management minor programme, said 2022 was a challenging year for the maritime and port industry with business volumes yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels for some sectors, such as the oil sector. 

Going into 2023, Prof Yap said that elevated inflation and high interest rates are expected to dampen consumer and investment spending, which could reduce port traffic volumes here. This is given the port’s location as the largest transhipment hub in the world and confluence of some of the biggest container trades, he added.

“These effects can already be seen in port traffic volumes for Singapore, particularly in the last quarter of 2022. For example, containerised cargo volume fell by 11.7 per cent and 10.9 per cent year on year respectively in November and December 2022,” he added. “The negative impact on the maritime industry is expected to persist into the first half of 2023 at least.”

However, he remains optimistic about Singapore’s maritime industry outlook, citing examples such as the development of Tuas Port and the collaboration between the Government and industry in maritime talent development.

“Singapore remains as one of the world’s best connected ports,” he said. “Our shipping connectivity actually grew during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the magnitude of expansion in connectivity was by a bigger margin compared with our competitors in South-east Asia.”

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.