Major Container Ports in Asia
Asia, a dominant force in the world of international trade, has an extensive network of ports that are essential for businesses of all sizes, including SMBs (Small and Medium-sized Businesses). These ports not only serve as major regional gateways to global commerce but also play a critical role for SMBs engaged in importing and exporting activities.
From SMBs to larger corporations, a deep understanding of Asia’s principal container ports becomes essential. These ports oversee the movement of various goods worldwide, shaping trade routes, impacting shipping costs, and determining delivery schedules.
Stretching along the vast coastlines of Asia, each container port possesses its unique characteristics, capacities, and strategic importance. From the bustling harbors of Shanghai on the East China Sea to the historically significant port of Mumbai near the Indian Ocean, Asia stands as a powerhouse, hosting some of the world’s most pivotal and active container terminals.
This guide delves deep into the major container ports in Asia, shedding light on their features, capabilities, and their indispensable role in the fabric of international commerce. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, an SMB looking to optimize import and export processes, or an individual eager to grasp the complexities of international trade, this exploration of Asian ports promises a wealth of insights.
Port of Shanghai
- Location: Shanghai, China
- Size: 3,619.6km² (361,960 hectares)
- Maximum Depth: 57.4 feet (16m)
The Port of Shanghai, located on the eastern coast of China at the mouth of the Yangtze River, stands as one of the world’s largest and most strategically important seaports, spanning across 3,619.6km², where, at its deepest point, the port has a depth of 57.4 feet (16 meters). It’s a sizable port with the capacity to manage a substantial amount of cargo. For instance, in 2019, the Shanghai port processed 43.6 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) of containers. There are three main container port areas in the Shanghai port: Wusongkou, Waigaoqiao, and Yangshan. These container terminals have a total of 13 km-long quay length, 156 quay cranes, and 43 berths.
In a longstanding rivalry, the Port of Shanghai successfully claimed the title of the world’s largest port in 2010, surpassing its Singaporean counterpart by 500,000 TEU in container handling. Its rich history extends back many centuries, with its role in trade and commerce evolving significantly over time.
The area, now known as the Port of Shanghai, historically known as Shen or Hudu from the 5th to 7th centuries, was sparsely populated and undeveloped. Its significant history began when it attained city status in 1297 under the Yuan Dynasty. In 1684, the Qing Dynasty allowed ocean-bound vessels to dock there, and by 1735, it had become a major Yangtze seaport. In 1842, the Treaty of Nanjing marked the start of international trade, with subsequent treaties in 1843 and 1844 further expanding its role. Following the Second China-Japan War, a Japanese community established the port’s first factory. After coming under Chinese control in 1949, foreign trade declined until 1991, when central government economic reforms revitalized commercial and construction activities.
Port of Kaohsiung
- Location: Kaohsiung, Taiwan
- Size: 121 wharves, covering a length of 27.8km
- Maximum Depth: 50 feet (15m)
The Port of Kaohsiung, situated in southern Taiwan, stands as one of the world’s largest and busiest seaports, playing a pivotal role in the economic activities of both Taiwan and the wider Asia-Pacific region. It provides an impressive maximum depth of 50 feet (15m), making it capable of accommodating large vessels and serving as a major hub for international trade. With 121 wharves, totaling an extensive length of 27,800 meters, the port is well-equipped to handle a wide array of cargo, solidifying its position as a critical link in the global supply chain.
The Port of Kaohsiung has a rich history dating back to the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty, when it was initially established as a small fishing village. In 1624, the Dutch initiated harbor development. However, General Cheng Cheng-kung (Koxinga) captured it from the Dutch in 1661. By 1684, it became a major trade center. In 1858, efforts began to turn it into an international port. The Tianjin Treaty of 1863 led to the establishment of the Kaohsiung Customs Authority, jointly managed by the Qing government and Britain. After Taiwan became part of Japan in 1895, it underwent infrastructure development, including the harbor. During World War II, the Japanese controlled the port, using it as a critical supply base.
Throughout the years, it expanded its infrastructure, deepened its waters, and adapted to handle a diverse range of cargo, including containers, bulk commodities, and petroleum products. In 1970, it inaugurated its first container terminal, underscoring its dedication to international trade and modernization. Today, the Port of Kaohsiung serves as a vital global maritime hub with cutting-edge facilities, efficient logistics, and a strategic location that greatly bolsters Taiwan’s economy and enhances its international trade connections.
Port of Hong Kong
- Location: Hong Kong, China
- Size: 2.7894km² (279 hectares)
- Maximum Depth: 55 feet (17m)
The Port of Hong Kong, located within the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region off the southeast coast of the Chinese mainland, is a major shipping port renowned for its immense size and strategic importance. To give a sense of the port’s performance, in 2022, it handled almost 17 million TEUs of containers. It is spread over an area of approximately 279 hectares (approximately 2.7894km²), and it consists of a range of terminals and facilities situated along the picturesque Victoria Harbour and extending into the adjacent waters of the South China Sea. With its natural deep harbor, the port boasts the capability to accommodate vessels of diverse sizes, including some of the world’s largest container ships. Its primary channel, known as the Main Kwai Chung Container Basin, was extended to a remarkable depth of 55 feet (17 meters), facilitating the efficient handling of containerized cargo.
The Port of Hong Kong has a rich and dynamic history marked by significant growth and transformation. Its rapid development took a notable turn in 1821 when British merchants, who were heavily engaged in the opium trade, became prominent contributors to its expansion. This chapter in the port’s history, characterized by British involvement and the opium trade, underscores its journey from humble beginnings to becoming a bustling international trade hub. In 1997, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China for importing, with the port officially handed over to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This transition led to strengthened ties between mainland China and Hong Kong, with substantial investments in transportation infrastructure. Today, the port’s strategic location and top-tier facilities solidify its status as a premier maritime gateway, symbolizing Hong Kong’s enduring economic significance on the global stage.
Port of Tanjung Priok (Port of Jakarta)
- Location: Jakarta, Indonesia
- Size: 6.04km² (604 hectares)
- Maximum Depth: 46 feet (14m)
The Port of Jakarta, also known as Tanjung Priok, is Indonesia’s largest and busiest seaport. It plays a crucial role in the country’s economy as a major gateway for international trade and cargo handling. Covering an area of approximately 604 hectares (424 hectares basin area), Tanjung Priok is one of the largest ports in Southeast Asia and is strategically positioned along the busy shipping routes of the Java Sea. Its extensive infrastructure includes various terminals for container, bulk, and general cargo, making it a versatile and essential hub for both import and export activities. The port boasts a depth of up to 46 feet (14 meters), allowing it to accommodate a wide range of vessel sizes, from small coastal ships to large container vessels.
The Port of Jakarta, historically known as Sunda Kelapa, traces its roots to the 4th-century Tarumanagara kingdom and later became notable during the Sunda Kingdom era. Its significance increased during the Sunda Kingdom era and was noted in historical records from the 14th century. European involvement began in 1513 with the arrival of Portuguese explorers, and the Dutch took control in the 17th century, renaming it Batavia in 1619. It evolved into a vital trading center. Japanese control during World War II led to the renaming of the city to Jakarta. Post-independence, the port underwent expansions and upgrades to meet Indonesia’s growing trade demands. Despite operational and infrastructural challenges, Tanjung Priok, as it is now known, remains Indonesia’s busiest port, continuously evolving to serve global commerce needs.
Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP)
- Location: Johor, Malaysia
- Size: 14 berths with a total wharf length of 5.04 kilometers
- Maximum Depth: 62 feet (19m)
The Port of Tanjung Pelepas, often referred to as PTP or simply Pelepas Port, is one of Malaysia’s premier container ports and a crucial hub for international trade in the Southeast Asian region. Located on the southern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, near the strategic Singapore Strait, Tanjung Pelepas Port boasts impressive statistics. It covers an area of approximately 180 hectares, with 14 berths, a total wharf length of 5.04 kilometers, and experiences a 12,500,000 TEU annual capacity. The port’s depth allows it to accommodate some of the largest container vessels in the world, with a maximum water depth of up to 19 meters.
In terms of its history, Tanjung Pelepas Port was officially launched in March 2000. It was developed as part of Malaysia’s strategy to compete with neighboring Singapore’s bustling port facilities and quickly established itself as a major player in global trade. The Port of Tanjung Pelepas Sdn Bhd (PTP) is managed through a joint venture between MMC Corporation, holding a majority stake, and APM Terminals. It continues to grow and improve its facilities and services to address the growing needs of global maritime trade, reinforcing its role as a crucial node in the international supply network.
Saigon Port / Port of Ho Chi Minh City
- Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Size: 2.63km² 263 hectares
- Depth: 36 feet (11m)
The Port of Ho Chi Minh City, commonly referred to as Saigon Port, stands as a bustling and highly significant maritime gateway in both Vietnam and the broader Southeast Asian region. As an indication of the port’s operations, it is estimated that in 2021, the port handled 9.2 million TEUs. The Saigon Port occupies an expansive area along the Saigon River, taking up an area of more than 263 hectares. This vast expanse of waterfront real estate allows for numerous terminals and facilities dedicated to various cargo types, from containers to bulk goods and petroleum products. Moreover, the port features deep-water terminals capable of accommodating large vessels with drafts of up to 11 meters, facilitating the efficient handling of substantial cargo volumes and ensuring it remains a critical gateway for international trade and commerce in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
The history of the Port of Ho Chi Minh City is deeply intertwined with the region’s colonial past and its subsequent role in Vietnam’s economic development. Originally established in 1860 by the French, the port served as a crucial hub for the export of rice, rubber, and other valuable commodities. Its strategic location along the Saigon River made it a gateway to the South China Sea, fostering international trade relationships. Following the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1975, the port continued to grow and modernize, evolving into a vital center for both import and export activities. Today, it stands as a testament to Vietnam’s economic progress, playing a pivotal role in the nation’s vibrant maritime industry.
Jawaharlal Nehru Port
- Location: Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra India
- Size: quay length of 680 meters (2,230 ft) with 2 berths
- Depth: 44 feet (14m)
Jawaharlal Nehru Port, also known as Nhava Sheva Port, is one of the largest and busiest ports in India. The port is situated near Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra and plays a pivotal role in the country’s maritime trade. The port boasts impressive statistics, with a quay length of 680 meters and 2 berths, making it one of the largest container ports in India. Additionally, it has a navigational depth of up to 14 meters, allowing it to accommodate large vessels and handle substantial cargo volumes. These attributes make Jawaharlal Nehru Port a crucial gateway for India’s international trade, facilitating the movement of goods to and from the country with efficiency and scale.
The port officially opened on May 26, 1989, and is named after India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who played a pivotal role in the country’s industrial and economic growth. The port was created to alleviate the congestion and limitations of Mumbai Port and to meet the growing demands of international trade. Over the years, it has undergone significant expansion and modernization to become one of India’s premier container ports, handling a vast portion of the country’s containerized cargo. Jawaharlal Nehru Port’s strategic location on the Arabian Sea and its continuous efforts to improve infrastructure and services have contributed to its status as a vital hub for India’s import and export activities, driving economic growth and global connectivity.
The Port of Singapore
- Location: Pasir Panjang, Singapore
- Size: 6km² (600 hectares)
- Depth: 30 feet (9m)
The Port of Singapore is regarded as one of the world’s biggest maritime hubs in the world. This port complex features a comprehensive array of terminals and facilities connecting to over 600 ports spanning 123 nations. The port’s depth fluctuates across its various terminals, with certain areas offering depths of up to 30 feet, thus catering to the needs of large container ships and oil tankers. In 2022, the Port of Singapore recorded a container traffic of 37.3 million TEUs. Furthermore, the port’s strategic placement along crucial shipping routes in Southeast Asia adds to its pivotal role in facilitating international trade and commerce.
The modern era of the Port of Singapore, as we know it today, started on April 1, 1964, under the name Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), established to take over the functions, assets, and liabilities of the Singapore Harbour Board. This marked a significant turning point in its evolution from a modest trading post to a modern, bustling port. In 1997, Singapore took another transformative step when a bill was passed in Parliament on August 25, leading to the corporatization of the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA). This new entity, generally referred to as PSA, quickly expanded and is now the second-largest container port in the world. Furthermore, as part of its ongoing development, it unveiled the initial stage of its cutting-edge New Generation Port (NGP), known as “Tuas Port.” This ambitious project is set to claim the title of the world’s largest port by 2040 while also being the first to achieve full automation.
Port of Nagoya
- Location: Nagoya, Japan
- Size: 1.462km² (146.2 hectares)
- Depth: 40 feet (12m)
The Port of Nagoya, situated in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, stands as one of the nation’s most prominent and bustling ports. The port includes four container terminals, which together cover a substantial area of 146.2 hectares. Furthermore, it houses 290 berths with a combined total length of 34.7 kilometers (21.6 miles), enabling the efficient handling of an extensive volume of cargo. The port encompasses four container terminals comprising a total of 12 berths, with a combined length spanning 3.7 kilometers. In terms of depth, it provides ample waterways for accommodating large vessels, with a natural depth of around 12 meters.
The Port of Nagoya has a storied history marked by significant transformation and growth. Inaugurated for international trade in late 1907, it has since evolved into a global maritime powerhouse, fostering trade partnerships with approximately 150 countries. Today, the Port of Nagoya proudly holds the title of Japan’s largest port in terms of cargo throughput and accounts for 10% of Japan’s total trade, a testament to its paramount role in the realm of international trade. Its exceptional versatility is a standout feature, as it adeptly handles a diverse range of cargo categories. This capability solidifies its position as a vital conduit for the seamless exchange of goods and commodities, both within Japan and across the global market.
- Location: Busan, South Korea
- Size: 26.8km quay wall
- Depth: 30 feet (9m)
The Port of Busan in South Korea is a major maritime hub known for its impressive size and capacity. It can berth four 10-thousand-ton vessels simultaneously and handle 180 thousand TEUs of containerized cargo and 756 thousand tons of general cargo. The port benefits from a 26.8-kilometer-long quay wall, enabling it to accommodate 169 vessels concurrently. The port features a deep-water channel with a maximum draft of 9 meters, accommodating large vessels and solidifying its role as a crucial global transshipment hub.
Nestled at the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula, the Port of Busan has a storied history as a bustling trading center dating back to at least the 15th century. Its strategic location at the mouth of the Nakdong River, nestled within a deep and well-protected bay facing Japan’s Tsushima Island, naturally positioned it as a focal point for maritime commerce. Notably, Busan achieved the distinction of becoming Korea’s very first international port when it opened to Japanese trade in 1876 and later expanded its accessibility to foreign trade in 1883. Due to the port’s growth and popularity, the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries (MOMAF) began the construction of Busan New Port in 1997. The project was completed in 2002 and included 600m of berth and 1.49km of breakwater. These pivotal developments marked the initiation of Busan’s enduring legacy as a vital global trade and maritime hub.
Port of Manila
- Location: Manila, Philippines
- Size: 1.375km² (137.5 hectares)
- Depth: 36 feet (11m)
The Port of Manila, located in the Philippines, is one of the busiest and most vital ports in Southeast Asia. Covering an area of approximately 137.5 hectares, Manila is the leading port in the Philippines. In addition to its vast size, the port includes three areas, Manila, Manila South, and Manila North, to accommodate consumer needs. Manila North is the largest and busiest of the three and includes depths from 9 to 11 meters that allow the handling of larger container ships and bulk carriers. With 12 piers and berths for 22 ships, the Port of Manila stands as a pivotal gateway for commerce and maritime activity in the region.
The Port of Manila’s historical significance is closely linked to the Philippines’ complex colonial past. Positioned on Manila Bay and intersected by the Pasig River, Manila has long served as the country’s primary trade gateway. Over the centuries, the Philippines saw various foreign influences, including Chinese and Bruneian rule. However, it was the arrival of the Spanish Empire in 1571, followed by American rule in 1898 and Japanese occupation during World War II, that shaped the nation’s destiny. Finally gaining independence in 1946, this tumultuous history has contributed to Manila’s cosmopolitan character and its enduring role as a vital hub for commerce and maritime activity in Southeast Asia.
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