Driverless vehicles whizz across five new berths at Tuas Mega Port, which sits on a swathe of largely reclaimed land at the western tip of Singapore. Unmanned cranes loom overhead, circled by camera-fitted drones. The berths are the first of 21 due by 2027. When it is completed in 2040, the complex will be the largest container port on Earth, boasts psa International, its Singaporean owner.
Tuas is a vision of the future on two fronts. It illustrates how port operators the world over are deploying clever technologies to meet the demand for their services in the face of obstacles to the development of new facilities, from lack of space to environmental concerns. More fundamentally, the city-state’s investment, with construction costs estimated at $15bn, is part of a wave of huge bets by the broader logistics industry on the rising importance of Asia, and South-East Asia in particular. The imf expects the region’s five largest economies—Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand—to be the fastest-growing bloc in the world by trade volumes between 2022 and 2027. The result is that the map of global commerce and the blueprints for its critical nodes are being simultaneously redrawn.
Across the planet, the expansion of seaports is becoming tougher, notes Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor of transport geography at Hofstra University in Long Island. Space in the right locations is scarce. Critics of development, especially among environmentalists, are not. Last year a big port expansion in Piraeus, Greece, was blocked by courts for failing to provide the right assessment of its environmental impact. One in Veracruz, Mexico, was also stopped on environmental grounds.