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Hong Kong to unveil maritime industry action plan to boost competitiveness

Measures will focus on how to bring in more premium maritime service providers, expedite sustainable shipping, and spur digital transformation in the industry, says Hong Kong’s top government officer

Voices from the local shipping community hope policymakers will attract more cargo interests and shipowners. What is more, there are also calls to replicate Singapore by creating an MPA-like entity to act as a hub that can nurture support for the sector

HONG Kong is poised to unveil a comprehensive action plan before the end of the year to help cultivate its maritime sector.

“The plan will enhance high-end maritime services, facilitate transformation towards zero emission, promote smart and digital initiatives in the industry, and promote global exchange,” said the city’s chief executive Lee Ka-chiu.

He was speaking at the third World Maritime Merchant Forum hosted by China Merchants Group in the Chinese special administrative region.

While details remain scarce, attracting premium shipping services has been a publicly stated goal in recent years as part of the efforts to reinvigorate Hong Kong’s maritime industry.

This latest gambit comes as shipping entities anchored in the former British enclave have increasingly clamoured for more supportive policies, as Hong Kong has gradually ceded ground to Singapore over the past decade in vying to be Asia’s preeminent shipping hub.

Hong Kong has rolled out select measures in recent years, including tax breaks for shipping lessors in 2020, but successes have seemingly been limited, partly owing to disruptions induced by the coronavirus lockdown era.

Moreover, geopolitical fallouts, especially the US terminating its reciprocal shipping tax deal with Hong Kong, have been detrimental.

Lee said shipping and ports remained an important sector for Hong Kong’s economy, accounting for 4.1% of the territory’s GDP and over 2% of employment. 

His remarks reaffirm the government’s determination to sustain support.

“I think they really want to attract more value-added type of service providers to Hong Kong, like shipbrokers and marine insurers,” Wellington Koo, chairman of Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association, told Lloyd’s List on the sidelines of the conference.

“The government report in the coming weeks is expected to detail their plans and what incentives that we might have in place,” said Koo, who is also the executive director of Valles Steamship, a tanker and bulker owner.

Privately, some local shipping executives say Hong Kong should prioritise luring cargo interests and shipowners, which would organically draw more service providers.

“You need to make the pie bigger, too,” Koo conceded.

He also noted Hong Kong necessitates an authority akin to Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority to furnish continuous, steadfast industry support.

“Because government people change from time to time, I think it will be important to have a designated group of people to be focused on shipping and the community.”

Meanwhile, Lee proclaimed Hong Kong will soon undertake a feasibility assessment of furnishing green methanol bunkering for local and ocean-going vessels.

This aims to evolve Hong Kong into a foremost hub for the low-carbon fuel.

In July, Singapore conducted its first ship-to-ship methanol bunkering, supplying 300 metric tonnes of bio-methanol to the first Maersk boxship cable of burning the type of fuel.

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