Towards a future of mobile, competitive “port-in-ocean” system for evolving seamless supply chains


CT Foo, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, SF Loke, Director of International Sealand Innovations Pte Ltd., Singapore, & S. Graham, Oceanport Shiploaders Pte Ltd., Australia



Most likely the first time that China exchanged substantial quantities of material goods with the outside world via deep ocean routes was when Admiral Zheng He embarked upon a series of seven long round-trip voyages. According to recorded history, he had 300 mega-ships of 400 ft each (as compared to Columbus’s 85 ships) and a 28,000-man crew.

It remains perhaps, the most impressive ocean armada that any country had ever assembled. What is most intriguing for the purpose of our paper is that Menzies Gavin, highly controversial yet not improbably, argued with evidence that in 1421 Zheng He had by then discovered Australia.

One ponders what the ancient Chinese may have done if they had realized that there were (and still are), rich iron ores located just a little distance up the river.  Perhaps they may have utilised their massive ships to form a seamless supply chain.

For iron and steel making is one of the great contributions by the ancient Chinese to the world. Now some five centuries later (or late), the Chinese have again come back to Australia to collect iron ore. For without iron, there is no steel, and steel is essential for infrastructure construction in China.

The seamless supply chain

In this paper, which is part of a four part series, we intend to propose our overall conceptual solution to the problem of forming a seamless supply chain as illustrated in Figure 2 (the process of turning iron-ores into steel products).

There is no need for a costly Zheng He style floating armada. It is it not even necessary, indeed in our shared opinion even wasteful of resources, to be building billion dollar ports on land. We envision our port-in-technology as evolving to future needs. We envision a seamless supply chain: one that brings the iron ores (processed as may be required in situ) from the mines to the jetty for loading, then through a patentedtechnology of tipper barges to be trans-shipped via conveyors up to the awaiting ocean going bulk carrier.

As shown in Figure 3, some of the iron ore refining processes may be undertaken at the mine. Then from the mines, these materials are taken by short overland  routes to the jetty. At the jetty, the lorry (vehicular “barge”) then tips over the iron ore fines onto the tipper barges. A tugboat then takes these tipper barges down the river to the sea where an ocean going bulk carrier awaits and the iron ores are transferred aboard.

From there it is a long journey across the ocean waters to a Chinese port. At the port, the usual port-on-land procedures apply and the materials are transported over to the factory. The demand-supply loop is closed again when there are re-orders for iron-ores. In the future, these processes are likely to be more tightly coordinated and even synchronised.

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