Tsing Ma bridge possible threat to Hong Kong cruise business

The Arcadia has an air draft of 54.3m

Following the hongkongmaritimehub.com story Tsing Ma Bridge a factor in Hong Kong Port’s box volumes (May 22), the general manager of Wallem Shipping (HK) K F Chan suggests below that Hong Kong’s cruise sector could also fall victim to the bridge factor.

The air draft limitation on the Tsing Ma Bridge could have a long term damaging effect on Hong Kong’s economy.

If we focus solely on the Cruise industry, the Asian market is at the top of the emerging cruise markets and Hong Kong is one of the region’s key destinations and homeports. China’s Prince Bay Cruise Terminal in Shekou, which is capable of accommodating the world’s largest cruise ships, is also fast becoming a key destination on South China itineraries. The route from Shekou to Hong Kong is therefore due to become an increasingly popular one.

Currently cruise liners coming to Hong Kong from Shekou, which exceed the stipulated air draft restrictions on the Tsing Ma bridge have no choice but to transit via the Tonggu channel. This channel has its own limitations – in addition to having a strong tide, which increases the risk of collision, passages can only be made in daylight and only one-way traffic is permitted. And since this passage is much less direct, it takes a longer time to transit, requiring more fuel.

At 53 metres, the air draft limit is much too low and needs to be revised. For example, The Arcadia, the fourth largest of the P&O Cruises fleet has an air draft of 54.3 metres. If the vessel was to be deployed on the Shekou – Hong Kong route, it would not be able to pass under the Tsing Ma bridge even with the tidal allowance since cruise ship itineraries are planned years in advance.

The Hong Kong Marine Department needs to seriously revisit the air draft restrictions placed on the Tsing Ma bridge channel. If the 53m restriction was officially revised then more cruise lines and indeed bigger cruise ships could use this channel, bringing more visitors to the city, hence bolstering the economy. Since using this channel requires pilotage and tug escort, it would also bring more business to the city’s maritime industry.

If this issue of the air draft restriction on the Tsing Ma Bridge is not reviewed soon, there is a danger that this will start to put cruise lines completely off including Hong Kong in their itineraries from Shekou. This is true especially of those cruise ships which are home-ported in Southern China. There is therefore an urgent need for this issue to be reviewed.

Wallem Ship Agency is the largest cruise agency in Asia, with over 500 calls per annum.

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