GOING OFFSHORE Islands are carved up and filled in for large Yangshan Deepwater Port. (Photo courtesy of Shanghai International Port Engineering Consultants Ltd.)

China’s scorching economic expansion is powering a growing armada of ever-larger container ships plying the waters between Asia and North America. Shanghai, which has been busy reclaiming its status as China’s premier financial and commercial center, is launching more of those ships as its port averages an annual growth rate of 29%. But fast growth can apply a chokehold to aging facilities and the port’s efficiency now is foundering on the shallow, silted Yangtze River bottom. To compensate, planners are moving Shanghai’s far- ocean cargo business from shallow water to deepwater, 31 kilometers off the coast.

Qiqu archipelago, tucked into the mouth of Hangzhou Bay, is being transformed into what soon could become the world’s largest container port. A fleet of dredges has been working since March 2003 to reclaim 26 million cu meters of land from the deep waters off Xiaoyangshan and Huogaitan islands, where five new berths will handle the latest generation of container vessels in the project’s $2-billion first phase. A 32-km-long causeway anchored by five cable-stayed spans will connect the island terminal to the mainland. There, local contractors are building a multimodal transport hub, a new town and a 42-km-long highway to speed goods to their ultimate destination.

IN CHARGE Gui leads construction. (Photo by John J. Kosowatz for ENR)

On the islands, a double-deck expressway will separate inbound and outbound traffic, with inbound vehicles traveling on a 7-m elevated structure and outbound vehicles on the upper roadway. When the project is complete in 2020, 32 berths will handle over 20 million 20-ft equivalent units (TEUs) per year and push Yangshan Deepwater Port ahead of Singapore and Hong Kong in capacity and throughput.

"Nothing like this has ever been built in China," says Gui Mo, director and chairman of Yangshan Tongsheng Port Construction Co. Ltd., the contracting arm of developers Shanghai Tongsheng Investment Group Co. Ltd. and Shengsi County State Property Management Co. So far, 11 major contracts have been let to mostly Chinese designers and contractors for first-phase works. YTPC was financed with a $2-billion line of credit from a consortium of Chinese banks and has spent $421 million after about one year of construction.


Deep Draft

Yangshan will not supplant Shanghai’s existing port facilities, located along the Yangtze and Huang Pu rivers. Smaller ships serving river, coastal and regional markets will continue to berth there. But the new generation of post-Panamax container ships that cross the Pacific draw a draft of at least 15 m and require more room to maneuver than the narrow Huang Pu offers. Shanghai’s main access channel averages 7-m depths and requires regular dredging due to the Yangtze’s heavy loads of silt. By jumping offshore, port officials can take advantage of naturally deep water in sheltered islands to expand the far- ocean market and minimize conflict with other mainland developments. Click here to view map >>

But building in a remote, marine location brings its own worries, says Gui. "There is a difference in culture in building offshore versus onshore," he says. "It is difficult. There is no water or power supply and we worry about the stability of structures [in early phases of construction]."

The islands were chosen because they form a natural break for high seas–an important factor in an area where typhoons are common–and their proximity...