Shanghai will soon be competing with its archrivals Hong Kong and Singapore for the title of Asia’s largest cruise hub with the upcoming deployment of the 172,000-ton MSC Bellissima. The mammoth ship will be the largest of its kind in Asia when it casts off from the city’s Wusongkou cruise terminal next spring.

The 315-meter, 18-deck vessel, which dwarfs all the flattops in service with the US Navy in terms of water displacement, will make the many cruise ships that currently call at Hong Kong and Singapore as homeports seem like minnows. The cruise liner can accommodate almost 5,700 passengers and will be redeployed from the Mediterranean to Asia to serve MSC’s China program in early 2020.

The MSC Bellissima is scheduled to sail to Shanghai in early 2020 and make the city her homeport. Photo: Handout

Currently, Hong Kong and Singapore each have an identical 150,000-ton ship – the World Dream and the Genting Dream. The vessels, Asia’s biggest passenger ships, are operated by Hong Kong-based Dream Cruises, a subsidiary of the Genting conglomerate.

Hong Kong has built an airport terminal-like cruise port on the runway of the city’s former Kai Tak airport, which juts into bustling Victoria Harbor, while Singapore’s massive Marina Bay Cruise Center is also conveniently located next to the city’s central business district.

The 150,000-ton World Dream, currently Asia’s largest cruise liner, is berthed in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor.
An overview of Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, built on the runway of the city’s former airport. Photos: Asia Times

But Shanghai has thrown down the gauntlet to challenge and even supplant the pair’s stature in the cruise leisure and maritime business, on the strength of tonnage, hardware and people’s spending power.

On Thursday, Shanghai’s party chief Li Qiang unveiled China’s first cruise tourism development pilot zone at the 2019 Seatrade Cruise Asia Pacific Conference, which was attended by top executives from leading cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, MSC, Dream Cruises, Costa, etc.

These operators announced at the conference that they would deploy their biggest, newest or most advanced ships to tap the potential of the Chinese market.

The dedicated area of about 10 square kilometers surrounding Shanghai’s Wusongkou Terminal near the Yangtze River estuary will cater to the administration, logistics and maintenance needs of international cruise operators who are attracted to Shanghai by the growing spending power of the city’s middle class and those in the neighboring Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, both of which are leading industrial powerhouses.

Shanghai strives to be a preeminent node for cruise liners in the Asia-Pacific region, having surpassed Barcelona to be the world’s fourth-largest hub in 2018, as measured by a set of matrixes combining total tonnages of cruise ships it received and passengers handled, according to the Shanghai Daily.

Shanghai’s Wusongkou cruise terminal. Photo: Google Maps
Shanghai’s Wusongkou cruise terminal can service three ships concurrently. Photo: Xinhua
A cruise ship operated by MSC is berthed at Shanghai’s cruise terminal. Photo: Xinhua

The city’s Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal, which can service three 100,000-ton ships, is already one of the larges across Asia. A total of 2,255 cruise ships have berthed there since its opening, bringing in 13.5 million travelers from across the world.

Further expansion has added two extra concourses with a gross floor area of 55,000 square meters and a 620-meter new bridge, as well as a sprawling 82,000-square-meter riverside berth to further boost Wusongkou’s capacity to six million passengers a year, more than double the number in 2018.