Touring Hong Kong's container port

This special Hong Kong tour offers travelers a chance to see one of the world's busiest ports up close.

Posted: Dec. 12, 2018 4:14 PM
Updated: Dec. 12, 2018 4:43 PM

Shopping has long been a big reason tourists come to Hong Kong, where stores are brimming with goods from around the world.

Now there's a tour where you can see how all that stuff got there.

Hong Kong Yachting will take up you close to the massive container ships that bring much of the bling and baubles, fashions and food, computers and cameras into Hong Kong via its container port, the sixth-busiest in the world.

James Hargraves, a transplanted New Zealander who has spent years working in the shipping industry, gives travelers the inside scoop on the port from the deck of a converted fishing boat as it cruises just yards from some of the biggest commercial ships afloat.

As massive cranes loom overhead and trucks move methodically along the piers, Hargraves rattles off a slew of statistics about the port and the ships and what's aboard them.

Those containers are 8-feet wide, 8.5-feet tall and either 20 feet or 40-feet long; for all you see from the outside of the ship, there could be hundreds more inside; the flat-sided containers are refrigerated.

Fast work

And there's no tracking device on them, he says. The movement from port to ship to customer around the world and back is followed on spreadsheets.

"You've got to be quite a logical person to think through all the steps, that's why it's called logistics," he says.

While the size of the container ships is amazing, Hargraves provides another shocking fact: The average one spends just 10 hours in port unloading and loading.

As if on cue, the tour boat maneuvers to avoid a medium-sized ship pulling away from wharfside.

Though a light rain is falling on the afternoon our CNN crew is aboard, the two dozen or so passengers don't seem to mind.

They ask about what life is like aboard a container ship -- "some of them have swimming pools" -- and where most of them are made -- "China, South Korea, Denmark."

Where do they come from? The smaller ones, the ships bringing goods down China's Pearl River delta, bear Chinese flags. The bigger ones are tagged with homeports from Belize to Panama to Malta.

Dinner and a show

Belgian tourists Sophie and Danny Bergmans are on their third trip to Hong Kong and spotted info on the cargo tour online.

"We were trying to do other, new things," Sophie says.

"It's different, the containers impressed," says Danny. "This is a good day!"

Kevin and Lori Bailey are Hong Kong expats, transplanted from Laguna Beach, California. Their household goods were in one of those containers, on one of those ships, two years ago.

"It's fascinating to see how it works," says Lori, wondering which size container their stuff was on and just how it made its way through the port to their residence.

As the Baileys talk, the smell of onions wafts across the deck. Hargraves has fired up the onboard grill for a lunch of barbecued sausages, steak and salad. The $900 HK ($115 US) ticket includes the lunch, some snacks and free-flow drinks, soda and juice, champagne, wine and beer.

Around a table on the boat's port side, a group of Americans breaks into song, the theme from the 1960s sitcom "Gilligan's Island."

"The first mate and his skipper too will do their very best."

Clearly this afternoon is not all about containers.

Hong Kong Yachting's container port tour runs Sundays through January 5, 2019, departing from the city's Central Pier. It will pick up again beginning April 5 through May 2019. Ticket information is available on their website, www.hongkongyachting.com.

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