Estimated decline in cargo volume.
The freight forwarding industry estimates that trade volumes will drop even further in the first months of 2009 as last year's orders are cleared from the books.
SIHANOUKVILLE Autonomous Port (SAP) is boosting capacity and speed with a new US$25 million heavy crane bought from Japan.
The upgrade comes despite falling international trade that has hit shipping companies and ports across the globe.
"This equipment will double the rate of cargo transfer and help the port to expand operations," said Lou Kim Chhu, chairman and CEO of Sihanoukville Autonomous Port.
"The crane can transfer 45 tonnes of cargo at a time, or 28 containers per hour."
Funds for the new equipment would come from concessionary Japanese loans.
Lou Kim Chhun told the Post Tuesday that the new heavy crane will start operations on February 15.
"We believe that this heavy crane will help improve the quality of service in the port and increase efficiency," he said.
According to SAP reports, the port transferred about 260,000 containers in 2008. He said that the new equipment will permit cargo ships to reduce their parking time by half.
So Nguon, director of So Nguon Transportation and Services Import Export, and co-chair of the Energy, Infrastructure and Transport Working Group, said that the new crane is part of the country's efforts to boost shipping infrastructure.
"My company transports about 1,000 containers per month, and we expect to be able to transport more once this crane is equipped because we won't have to wait longer for old and smaller cranes to lift cargo," So Nguon said.
"We need more heavy cargo cranes that meet international standards to expand more in the future," he added.
Sin Chanthy, general secretary of the Cambodia Freight Forwarders Association, welcomed the upgrade but said that slow customs clearance remains a major problem for local companies.
"If the working process does not change, the speed of cargo transfer will stay the same, even with better equipment," he said. "Sometimes we have to wait from noon until late at night while the inspection period takes about 10 or 20 minutes," he added.
He recommended that the government address the problem to speed the country's logistics systems.
But with the economic slowdown cutting international trade, the port expects to see only five percent to six percent growth for 2009.
Yet Sin Chanthy said that even those figures could be too ambitious.
He estimated that cargo traffic fell by between 20 percent and 30 percent in the last quarter of 2008, which he blamed on the decline in construction materials imports.
He said volumes for 2009 could fall further when current orders are cleared.
Cambodia can, however, count itself better off than many international ports that have fared worse as global trade volumes register their first decline in decades.
The US's two top ports, Long Beach and Los Angeles, were down 18 percent year-on-year - a steeper drop than the industry has seen in previous recessions, according to figures reported in London's The Telegraph. Regional trade is falling fast, which could mean more hard times for ports in East Asia. Japanese exports fell 27 percent from a year earlier, while Korea's were down 30 percent and Taiwan's fell 42 percent.