The Port of Penang is located in George Town, the capital of Penang state, on the eastern shores of Penang Island across the Strait of Malacca from Peninsular Malaysia. In Malay, George Town is known as Tanjung, or The Cape. About 200 thousand live in the city, and around 400 thousand people live in the metropolitan area.
The Port of Penang is Malaysia’s leading port. Located on a promontory on northeast Penang Island, the Port of Penang has a sheltered harbor about five kilometers from Peninsular Malaysia where international vessels can avoid the dangerous shallows of Strait of Malacca southern routes.
The Port of Penang’s city, George Town, was voted as one of Asia’s best cities by Asiaweek in 1998 and again in 2000. In 2009, Conditions Abroad Limited ranked the Port of Penang and George Town as one of the 10 top locations where Europeans want to work and live. In 2008, George Town was designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Site for its architectural and cultural character that is unique in East and Southeast Asia.
George Town and the Port of Penang were first built on swampy lands that had to be reclaimed to be habitable. Captain Francis Light founded the town for the British East India Company in 1786 to be a base for trade with the Malay states. The Sultan of Kedah allowed Light to build Fort Cornwallis on the northeast corner of the island. The fort soon became the center of a busy trading port, and by 1804, 12 thousand people lived on the island.
The Port of Penang was an integral part of George Town from its beginning. Port of Penang warehouses and godowns were constructed from Beach Street to the ocean. By the late 19th Century, a new waterfront quay had to be created for the Port of Penang because Beach Street had become dry-docked due to so much land reclamation activity.
The commercial center of George Town and the Port of Penang was divided into banking activities and port-related trade. Locating near the Port of Penang, shipping companies, import and export merchants, and wholesalers dominated southern Beach Street. It is this southern section of the city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
By the end of the 19th Century, the area around the Port of Penang’s northern Beach Street was the “high street” where European stores and emporiums sold merchandise. Among the many foreign companies located there were the Netherlands Trading Society, the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation, Caldbeck & Macgregor, Sandilands & Buttery, and Pritchard & Company. The thriving Port of Penang and George Town attracted many Chinese and Indian nationals who came to trade. Even today, European and Chinese cultures dominate the city.
Modern George Town and the Port of Penang support many industries, mostly located in the south suburbs, that include rice and coconut milling, tin smelting, and manufacturing of rattan and bamboo products and soap. The Bayan Lepas industrial estates produce electronics. Mainland exports are brought to the Port of Penang from Peninsular Malaysia, and the Port of Penang handles most of the Malay peninsula’s cargo. Exports moving through the Port of Penang include rubber, copra, and tin.