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Hong Kong Container Port: A Mini City

6 millions! That is the number of large containers that enter and leave the port of Hong Kong each year. There is a small mini-city in the Hong Kong harbor that is home to at least 75,000 huge steel containers at any given time.

Did you know that millions of products sold around the world are made in China? China is where Nike makes 50% of its shoes. 85% of the toys created by Hasbro, Mattel and Toys R’ Us are made in China. Most Dell and Hewlett Packard computers are made in China. Radio Shack sells items from three hundred different factories in mainland China. Many of these products leave for destinations such as North America, Europe and Australia through the port of Hong Kong, the busiest in Asia.

Ships returning to the city contain some raw materials for manufacturing. However, the main imports are used paper and used computers. Factories in China take North American waste paper and recycle it to make cardboard boxes and white printing paper. Workers in China also take apart old computers to salvage gold and reusable parts. Labor costs in North America for these green activities are prohibitive. This is not the case in China. Low labor costs are also the reason Hong Kong can operate its container port so cheaply.

The skilled technicians who operate the cranes and mechanical arms that load and unload containers on and off the ships earn around $20,000 US per year. Workers doing exactly the same job at US container ports earn $200,000 a year. Interestingly, Hong Kong operators, who earn much lower wages, work twice as fast as their American counterparts. Speed ​​is the name of the game in the container port. The largest ships at its docks can carry up to 8,000 containers. These can be unloaded in about ten hours and new containers destined for export can be loaded onto the ship in another ten. Within twenty hours of arriving at port, a ship can be ready to set sail again with a fresh load of containers. Large scaffold-type cranes work around the clock loading and unloading the ships.

One of the reasons ships can be loaded and unloaded so quickly is the complex software developed by Hong Kong experts that ensures containers are stored and stacked in the port area in the most practical way. Schedulers input data about when a container will arrive, when it’s due to leave, how much it weighs, what’s in it, and where it’s going. Using a 47-color code, the computer tells port workers the best place to store the container. This local technology is now being sold to other container ports around the world. Another reason the container port works so well is its 60-channel radio system that keeps the more than 3,000 employees connected to each other. The port never sleeps. They work there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The container port is a bit like a miniature city. Instead of apartments there are loads of containers. Instead of trains and buses there are many trucks. 8,000 trucks enter and leave the container port every day carrying imports and exports. The Hong Kong Container Port is a busy and fascinating place to visit.

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