China. The Middle Kingdom is the largest in the world in terms of the population of 1.4 billion people. Also its surface is huge, 9,596,961 km² give it the fourth place on the list of the world's largest countries. Every year, the economy grows at much higher rates than Western economies. Today, China is the world's largest export nation with an export volume of US$ 2.157 trillion in 2017 (out of a total trade volume of US$ 3.888 trillion). And so you can rank one superlative after the next when you talk about China. Shanghai belongs to this list because it is home to by far the largest port in the world.
The old days – today
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) Shanghai already had a key position for the development of coastal trade due to its location in the delta of the Yangtze River. In 1842 it was appointed a trading port and foreign trade began. Shanghai was already the largest port in the Far East at the beginning of the 20th century. With the consolidation of communist rule in the middle of the century and the so-called Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the entire economy suffered severe setbacks. Of course, this was also noticeable in the port of Shanghai, where international trade shrank and the infrastructure deteriorated. Only since the economic reforms in 1991 has it been able to grow again - from now on at a rapid pace.
This immense growth is mainly due to the construction of the Yangshan deep-water port, which went into operation in 2005. This is where the largest container ships in the world can moor effortlessly, including the Post-Panamax freighters, the largest of which is currently the OOCL Hong Kong, which is almost 400m long and holds 21,413 TEUs. Today, 20 million containers can be handled annually in the Yangshan port alone.
The port of Shanghai is divided into five main facilities. In addition to the deep-water port of Yangshan, these are the Pudong Special Economic Zone, which consists of several ports, and the respective facilities at the estuaries of the Yangtze, Qiantang and Huangpu Rivers, all of which flow into the Yellow Sea in Shanghai. Since 2003, the entire port has been operated by the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG), which is listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in the SSE50 index of the 50 most important companies in the country.
The port of Yangshan
The deep water port of Yangshan is special in many ways. It is located on two offshore islands in the open sea south of Shanghai. The other sections of the port on the river banks are tidal, so the construction of a deep-water port was necessary at some point. Yangshan was opened in 2005, but the port is being expanded in modules and is to be completed in its entirety by 2020. Yangshan is connected to the mainland by the 32.5 km long Donghai Bridge. The containers are transported back and forth between the port facilities and the freight terminal on the other side by feeder and truck.
SIPG invested a total of €1.31 billion in a promising project. In December 2017, the fully automated terminal on the fourth section of Yangshan was opened. Here, too, China is ahead of its competitors: This terminal is the first of its kind in the world. The quay wall is 2,350 m long and offers seven berths for giant freighters. There are currently 10 bridge cranes and 40 gantry cranes on the quay wall. With the ongoing expansion of the terminal, it will be equipped with 26 bridge cranes and 120 gantry cranes in the future. Fully automated also means that there are no drivers driving the trucks from A to B any more. Instead, a good 50 driverless transport vehicles (FTFs) are currently on the road in the terminal area. The fleet is to be expanded to 130 FTFs.
The cranes tower about 65m into the sky, a whole forest of cranes. Behind and in between and everywhere: rows and even more rows of containers. Apart from 2009, when transhipment fell by ten percent as a result of the international financial crisis, container transhipment has risen year on year over the past two decades. In 2017 Shanghai cracked another record number and reached a turnover of 40.23 million TEU containers. In order to achieve such figures, 30,000 people are employed in the port.
Operation in the port of Shanghai never stands still. Work is carried out around the clock seven days a week, by people and now mainly by machines. Container ships are moored and then unloaded in the rapid rhythm of the container gantry cranes. Cranes stack containers on the freighters, always two at a time, the colorful wall of the building bricks getting higher and higher. Corridor vehicles are rushing back and forth to transport the goods. In the coming weeks and months, the intensity will increase even more, as Christmas business is on the agenda in Europe and America. The shipments have to be on their way in good time because they will be at sea for around four weeks to Antwerp, Rotterdam or Hamburg. And at the end of the journey, smartphones, electrical appliances, sporting goods, toys, jewellery, clothing and much more will be under the Christmas trees again.