As a boy growing up in Durban, the largest seaport city in South Africa, Kashveer Raghunath is no stranger to port terminals. But when he walked into the Hairun Container Terminal located in berths 4-6 of the Haicang section of the Xiamen Port, what he saw was totally different from that in his hometown.
On 14 November, Raghunath visited the Xiamen Port to experience the smart production, modern facilities and international services of the terminal, along with 16 other young people from 12 countries, including the US, France, Italy and Russia, who were in Xiamen to take part in the 2023 edition of China in Dialogue with the World themed Xiamen Tour for Global Young Leaders.
In the Hairun Terminal, an orange-coloured bridge crane was operating automatically, slowly lifting 40-foot containers one after another, moving them to the other side and putting them on a blue self-driving container truck. These containers were then transported to the yard and parked under a gantry crane.
Raghunath noticed that the operator of the crane was sitting 2 km away in the “brain” of the terminal – the intelligent operation area, where they monitor and operate the machines through computers. With a gentle push on levers and buttons, they can control the crane’s functions.
“This smart terminal of Hairun has impressed me with all the hi-tech facilities. Xiamen’s technology-driven port operation serves as a model for ports around the world,” Raghunath told ChinAfrica.
As an international shipping centre, the Xiamen Port is not only the pillar of economic development of the Xiamen Special Economic Zone but also a pivotal hub in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Jiang Jingyang, director of the Safety Supervision, Technology and Information Division of the Xiamen Port Authority, said that with the development of science and technology, intelligent transformation of the port is an inevitable trend and an important support for enhancing the comprehensive operation efficiency of the port.
He said that in recent years, the port has been promoting the “smart port project.” From container handling to crane operation and logistics, intelligent technology is progressively applied to the entire port operation.
In July 2020, the Hairun Terminal was selected by Xiamen Port Holding Group for a pilot programme aimed at transforming the traditional container terminal into a smart one, the first such programme in China, with bridge crane operation being one of the key focus areas.
Su Jie, 42, works as a bridge crane operator at the terminal and has been handling loading and unloading operations for over 20 years. He has a deep appreciation for the changes brought about by this transformation programme.
Until three years ago, he had to work from the cabin at a height of some 50 metres to operate the bridge crane.
“I used to work in the small cabin and operate the crane depending solely on my eyes and experience. It never occurred to me that I could sit in an office while controlling the bridge crane,” he said.
Xu Zhihong, vice president of the Hairun Terminal, said that in traditional terminals, many operators suffer from occupational diseases due to the rigour of the job and stress, and therefore need to be transferred to other positions in their 40s. Now, the intelligent system makes it possible to operate the equipment remotely, turning this line of work from a blue-collar job to a hi-tech white-collar job.
The remote operation has also allowed more and more women to work as operators. Gantry cranes are mainly responsible for the loading and unloading of containers, bulk cargo and other goods in the terminal. Previously, the operators had to sit in the 20-metre-high cabin to operate the equipment. “Due to the rough and dangerous working conditions and physically demanding nature of the work, women stayed away from this kind of work,” Xu said. Today, several female operators work on the intelligent operating system. With three screens and a console in front of them, they can lift a 30-tonne container within seconds.
“This operating system integrates video surveillance, positioning and the Internet of Things, among other technologies. The application of new technology has made it possible to recruit women operators,” Xu said.
In addition to intelligent, automated bridge cranes, gantry cranes and intelligent guided vehicles (IGVs), other intelligent technologies in use include automated scanning and identification of trailers at the gates as well as digital bills and documents.
Jiang said that since 2020, the Xiamen Port, represented by the Yuanhai and Hairun Terminals, is moving from automated to intelligent operation thanks to the advancements of artificial intelligence, big data, 5G, Beidou system, industrial Internet, the Internet of Things and other technologies, as well as more advanced IGVs for automated transportation.
The transformation and upgrading of the port have played a significant role in improving the efficiency of cargo handling. In the Hairun Terminal, for example, the intelligent transformation has achieved three major results according to Xu: a 10 percent increase in overall productivity, a reduction in labour costs of around 30 million yuan ($4.16 million), and an improved level of service. The flow of arriving vehicles has been improved by three times, and the efficiency of customs clearance in the whole harbour has been increased by 20 percent. In terms of green and low-carbon transformation, the energy-saving rate of the terminal has reached 18.9 percent.
“In the first half of the year, the Hairun Terminal continued to be optimised and upgraded, achieving a total container throughput of 483,200 TEUs, a year-on-year increase of 13.36 percent. In the second half of the year, the terminal will continue to upgrade the whole system to further improve productivity, to provide a more mature Xiamen model of intelligent transformation of container terminals in China,” Xu said.
Reduced carbon footprint
Apart from intelligent operation, the goal of the transformation and upgrading of the traditional container terminal in Xiamen Port also includes promoting green and eco-friendly operations in line with China’s goals of carbon peak and carbon neutrality.
“We used to use fuel-consuming quay cranes, rail cranes for loading and unloading, and trucks for cargo transportation, which are all sources of carbon emission,” said Wen Mingcheng, deputy general manager of Xiamen Yuanhai Container Terminal Co. Ltd.
Now, this situation is being reversed. As one of the first pilot cities in China to build a low-carbon transportation system, Xiamen has accelerated the construction of low-carbon ports. As a result of the Xiamen Port Low Carbon Development Action Plan, the cargo throughput of Xiamen Port has increased, while carbon emission has steadily declined.
The Xiamen Port has taken concrete actions to accelerate low carbon and new energy transition, including the use of renewable energy, switch to electric trucks, new energy transformation of vessels, and the reduction of pollutants from the vessels.
According to the Xiamen Port Authority, compared to 2020, the port’s carbon dioxide emissions per unit of throughput will decrease by 10 percent in 2025 and 28 percent in 2030, while carbon dioxide emissions per unit of turnover from operating vessels will decrease by 5 percent in 2025 and 12.5 percent in 2030.
African Times has published the article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine.