By Sandy K. Johnson

Thousands of cargo containers stacked like colorful Legos. Massive cargo ships being unloaded at docks by towering cranes. A control tower managing the daily ballet of a busy port terminal.

National Press Foundation fellows got a bird’s eye look at the seventh largest port in the world via Modern Terminals Ltd. in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong once was the top port (Shanghai is now No. 1), but even today it is the trade channel for 25,000 ships a year bearing 20 million containers.

Worldwide, ships move more than $4 trillion in goods each year. As ocean-going trade increased, so too has the size of the cargo ships – ballooning over the past 20 years from a capacity of 6,000 containers to 22,000 containers in the largest ship today. A Maersk Triple-E ship, if stood on its end, would be taller than the Eiffel Tower. It is so big, it cannot traverse the Panama Canal.

Modern Terminal CEO Peter Levesque described a ruthless competition that prompted four companies to form a joint venture called the Hong Kong Seaport Alliance. The alliance will allow the companies to become more efficient and spend money on much-needed technology, he said.

Among the efficiencies: reducing port delays, saving thousands of tons of fuel and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Among the tech upgrades: sensor technology that predicts maintenance needs; equipment automation; artificial intelligence to improve forecasting and eliminate congestion; and blockchain utilization to track containers and increase security about what’s in each box.

Levesque said technology advances will allow Hong Kong to compete with other ports, such as those in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.