Port of Penang

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Port of Penang
Penang Port day.jpg
Facility information
Location Penang, Malaysia
Coordinates 5°24′57″N 100°21′58″E / 5.4157°N 100.36603°E / 5.4157; 100.36603Coordinates: 5°24′57″N 100°21′58″E / 5.4157°N 100.36603°E / 5.4157; 100.36603
Constructed 1786
Operator Penang Port Commission
Annual TEU 1.52 million (2017)[1]
Shipping information
No. of berths 22
Road information
Street access Butterworth Outer Ring Road

The Port of Penang is a deepwater seaport within the Malaysian state of Penang. It consists of terminals along the Penang Strait, including five on the mainland and one in George Town. The Port of Penang was the third busiest harbour in Malaysia in terms of cargo as of 2017, handling 1.52 million TEUs of cargo, as well as the busiest port-of-call within the country for cruise shipping.[1][2]

Established in 1786 with the founding of Penang Island as a free port by the British East India Company, the Port of Penang was originally located in the port city of George Town.[3][4] Under British rule, the Port of Penang played a crucial role in Penang's economy, which largely depended on maritime trade. However, the free port status was revoked by the Malaysian federal government in 1969.[5][6][7][8] The Port of Penang was then relocated to Butterworth on the mainland in 1974 to facilitate the handling of larger container vessels.[9][10] Today, the Port of Penang remains the main harbour and transshipment hub of northern Malaysia.


An 1814 print depicting vessels in George Town.
The Port of Penang at Weld Quay, George Town in the 1910s. Land reclamation in the 1880s allowed for the expansion of the harbour.
An Imperial Japanese Navy submarine at the Port of Penang in 1942.

The Port of Penang was established with the founding of George Town by Francis Light in 1786. Light, who had been tasked by the British East India Company to form trade relations in the Malay Peninsula, deduced that by obtaining Penang Island, the British could check Dutch and French territorial ambitions in Southeast Asia.[11][12] Due to its location in the Malacca Strait along the maritime trade route between India and China, the island could be put to use as a "convenient magazine for trade"; Light added that if "Malay, Bugis and Chinese will come to reside here, it will become the Exchange of the East if not loaded with impositions and restrictions".[4]

The Port of Penang, originally sited in George Town, was founded as a free port, meaning that goods could be traded without the imposition of taxes, duties or tariffs.[13] The measure was intended to attract merchants from the existing Dutch harbours in the region. Consequently, the number of incoming vessels increased exponentially from 85 in 1786 to 3,569 in 1802.[14][15][16] In the early 19th century, the Port of Penang became a major conduit for spice exports in Southeast Asia.[17][18][19] Spice harvested from agricultural farms throughout Penang would be shipped out for export from the harbours of George Town.

The primacy of the Port of Penang along the Malacca Strait was short-lived, however. After the founding of Singapore by Stamford Raffles in 1819, the Port of Singapore rapidly surpassed the Port of Penang as the preeminent harbour in the region, due to the former's more strategic geographic position.[20][21][22][23]

In spite of that, the Port of Penang continued to prosper throughout the 19th century. External developments, such as the opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of steamships, meant that the Port of Penang became the first port-of-call east of the Indian subcontinent.[21] Meanwhile, the tin mining boom in the Malay Peninsula and southern Siam led to the growth of the Port of Penang as a major tin-exporting harbour, directly challenging the Port of Singapore.[20][24] Tin from the Kinta Valley and Siam were transported to George Town for smelting, before being exported via the Port of Penang to European and American industries.[21] For several years in the late 19th century, tin exports from the Port of Penang, as well as tin imports into George Town, exceeded those of Singapore.[20]

In the late 1880s, a massive land reclamation in George Town was undertaken to allow for the expansion of the Port of Penang.[24] Following the land reclamation, coastal streets, such as Weld Quay, were created, while new piers and warehouses, including Swettenham Pier, were built. In addition, the first cross-strait ferry service between George Town and Butterworth was launched in 1894.[25] Ferries to Butterworth departed from the several piers along Weld Quay, such as Kedah Pier, Church Street Pier and the FMSR Pier.

During the Japanese occupation of Penang in World War II, the Port of Penang was put to use as a major Axis naval base.[26][27] Between 1942 and 1944, George Town served as the port of call and a replenishment hub for the submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Kriegsmarine (of Nazi Germany) and the Regia Marina (of the Kingdom of Italy).[28][29][30] At the end of the war, British Royal Marine commandos landed at the Port of Penang on 3 September 1945 under Operation Jurist, liberating Penang Island by the end of the day.

Despite British assurances that George Town would retain its free port status after the independence of Malaya, the free port status was eventually revoked by the Malaysian federal government in 1969.[5][6][31] This sparked massive unemployment within Penang, and coupled with the rapid development of Port Klang near Kuala Lumpur, led to the decline of the Port of Penang's maritime trade, as Port Klang assumed the role as Malaysia's main seaport.[5][7][8][32]

In 1974, the Port of Penang was relocated from George Town to Butterworth to accommodate larger container vessels.[9][10] Since then, the Port of Penang's cargo and container operations are handled at six facilities in mainland Seberang Perai. Meanwhile, Swettenham Pier, the sole remaining harbour facility in George Town, was redeveloped into a cruise shipping terminal in 2009.[33][34] The pier has since evolved into Malaysia's busiest harbour for cruise ships, overtaking Port Klang in 2017.[2]

North Butterworth Container Terminal


The Port of Penang consists of seven facilities along the Penang Strait. Six of these are located in Seberang Perai on the mainland, particularly the towns of Butterworth and Perai. Swettenham Pier is the Port's sole terminal on Penang Island.[35]

Port of Penang is located in Penang
North Butterworth Container Terminal
North Butterworth Container Terminal
Butterworth Wharves
Butterworth Wharves
Vegetable Oil Pier
Vegetable Oil Pier
Prai Wharves
Prai Wharves
Prai Bulk Cargo Terminal
Prai Bulk Cargo Terminal
Location of Port of Penang facilities
A cargo vessel at the Vegetable Oil Pier

The five cargo and container terminals are situated in Butterworth and Perai, whereas Swettenham Pier is the sole passenger-only cruise terminal.

Location Terminal Type Number of berths Length (m) Capacity (kTEU) Capacity (ton)
Butterworth North Butterworth Container Terminal[10] Container 7 1,500 2,000
Butterworth Wharves[36] Break-bulk cargo 6 1,050 2,500,000
Vegetable Oil Pier[36] Liquid-bulk cargo 1 136,970
Perai Perai Bulk Cargo Terminal[36] Dry-bulk cargo 5 632 3,900,000
Perai Wharves[36] Dry-bulk cargo
George Town Swettenham Pier Passenger 3 400

Operating statistics[edit]

The Port of Penang handled 1.52 million TEUs of container in 2016, making it the third largest Malaysian harbour by volume after Port Klang and Port of Tanjung Pelepas.[1] Meanwhile, Swettenham Pier has emerged as the busiest harbour in the country for cruise shipping, overtaking Port Klang in 2017.[2]

Year Cargo TEU (millions) Note
2010 1.10 [37]
2011 1.19 [37]
2012 1.16 [37]
2013 1.23 [37]
2014 1.26 [37]
2015 1.31 [37]
2016 1.44 [38]
2017 1.52 [1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Penang Port allocates RM186mil capex for two years". The Star. 2018-02-26. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  2. ^ a b c "Swettenham Pier surpasses Port Klang as top port of call for cruise ships". www.thesundaily.my. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
  3. ^ Nordin, Hussin (1 December 2005). "Networks of Malay Merchants and the Rise of Penang as a Regional Trading Centre". Southeast Asian Studies. 43 (3): 215–237. ISSN 0563-8682.
  4. ^ a b Lewis, Su Lin (2016). Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920–1940. United Kingdom: Cambridge University. ISBN 9781107108332.
  5. ^ a b c Daniel Goh, P. S. (2014). "Between History and Heritage: Post-Colonialism, Globalisation, and the Remaking of Malacca, Penang and Singapore" (PDF). Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia. 2.
  6. ^ a b Christie, Clive (1998). A Modern History of Southeast Asia: Decolonization, Nationalism and Separatism. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-86064-354-5.
  7. ^ a b Evelyn Teh (July 2016). "Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang". Penang Monthly. Retrieved 2017-11-30.
  8. ^ a b "The man behind Penang's economic transformation". The Star. Retrieved 2017-11-30.
  9. ^ a b "The Mainland Awakens". Penang Monthly. 2016-09-01. Retrieved 2017-02-10.
  10. ^ a b c "Container Services". Port of Penang.
  11. ^ "The Founding of Penang". www.sabrizain.org. Retrieved 2017-05-25.
  12. ^ "History of Penang". Visit Penang. 2008. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  13. ^ Ashley Jackson (November 2013). Buildings of Empire. OUP Oxford. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-0-19-958938-8.
  14. ^ Nordin, Hussin. "Malaysian Journal of Society and Space" (PDF). Charting the early history of Penang trading networks and its connections with the new ASEAN growth triangle (Malaysia-Indonesia-Thailand).
  15. ^ Nordin, Hussin (1 December 2005). "Networks of Malay Merchants and the Rise of Penang as a Regional Trading Centre". Southeast Asian Studies. 43 (3): 215–237. ISSN 0563-8682.
  16. ^ "pg.3 - Chapter 1 - Early Penang Society (contd)". 100pfs.blogspot.my. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  17. ^ Souza, George Bryan (2014). Hinterlands and Commodities: Place, Space, Time and the Political Economic Development of Asia over the Long Eighteenth Century. BRILL. ISBN 9789004283909.
  18. ^ Ooi, Kee Beng (2014). "When Penang Became A Spice Island". Penang Monthly. Retrieved 2017-05-25.
  19. ^ Khoo, Su Nin (2007). Streets of George Town, Penang. Penang: Areca Books. ISBN 978-983-9886-00-9.
  20. ^ a b c Wong, Yee Tuan (2015). Penang Chinese Commerce in the 19th Century: The Rise and Fall of the Big Five. Singapore: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. ISBN 978-981-4515-02-3.
  21. ^ a b c Turnbull, C. M. "The Penang Story". Penang's Changing Role in the Straits Settlements, 1826–1946.
  22. ^ "Singapore becomes admin centre of the Straits Settlements - Singapore History". eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  23. ^ Khoo, Salma Nasution (2009). Penang and Its Region: The Story of an Asian Entrepôt. Singapore: National University of Singapore. ISBN 978-9971-69-423-4.
  24. ^ a b Langdon, Marcus (2014). George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precints. Penang: George Town World Heritage Incorporated.
  25. ^ Cheah, Jin Seng (2013). Penang: 500 Early Postcards. Editions Didier Millet. ISBN 9789671061718.
  26. ^ "uboat.net - U-boat Operations- The Monsun U-boats - 3. Monsun boats". www.uboat.net. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  27. ^ "German U-Boat Operations in Australian Waters".
  28. ^ "Nazi U-boat sunk during Second World War is discovered off Indonesia". Mail Online. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  29. ^ "World War II: Yanagi Missions -- Japan's Underwater Convoys | HistoryNet". www.historynet.com. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  30. ^ Borsa, Arnaldo. "Italian Royal Navy in World War Two: Italian surface units in Far East". www.icsm.it. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  31. ^ Koay, Su Lin (October 2016). "Penang: The Rebel State (Part Two)". Penang Monthly. Retrieved 2017-11-26.
  32. ^ Rasiah, Rajah (December 1991). "Foreign Firms in Penang's Industrial Transformation". Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
  33. ^ "Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal". Port of Penang.
  34. ^ "Malaysia: A Preferred Cruise Destination" (PDF). Tourism Malaysia.
  35. ^ "General Info". Port of Penang.
  36. ^ a b c d "Cargo Services". Port of Penang.
  37. ^ a b c d e f "Annual Report 2015" (PDF). Penang Port Commission.
  38. ^ "Stacking up MMC's ports against Westports". The Edge Markets. 2017-05-02. Retrieved 2018-03-13.

External links[edit]