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Gulftainer's growth defies wider industry woes

Gulftainer became the latest Middle East port operator to post a significant increase in trade volume yesterday, despite acrisis facing the global container ship industry.

Gulftainer became the latest Middle East port operator to post a significant increase in trade volume yesterday, despite acrisis facing the global container ship industry.

The largest privately owned port operator in the world said there had been an overall 16.8 per cent monthly increase in container throughput at its Sharjah Container Terminal (SCT), on top of a 19.3 per cent annual volume increase last year.

Likewise, DP World this month reported a 10 per cent growth in gross global volumes last year.The UAE as a whole grew 12 per cent to 13 million TEU (20-foot Equivalent Unit - a unit for measuring container size) for the year. This comes against a global projected growth rate for port throughput of 7.6 per cent last year, down from 14.1 per cent in 2010, according to the industry analyst company Alphaliner.

"We are delighted to have achieved such successful results for the month of January 2012 and for the year," said Peter Richards, the managing director for Gulftainer. The volume increases ... demonstrate the increased volume of trade in the region, and we remain very optimistic about prospects for the whole region in the coming year."

SCT, adjacent to Sharjah's industrial zone, handles containers on behalf of more than 40 shipping lines - including all of the world's top 20 companies - and accommodates more than 45 per cent of the non-oil manufacturing capacity of the UAE.

It operates three mainports: Sharjah Container Terminal; Khorfakkan Container Terminal; and Ruwais port.In contrast to Gulftainer's positive outlook, other major container lines arefeeling the squeeze. Last week, Singapore's Neptune Orient Lines became the highest-profile container shipping company so far to unveil a fall for last year, when it announced a US$478m (Dh1.75 billion) net loss on revenue down 2 per cent to $9.21bn.

Neptune is regarded as a benchmark for the global container ship industry because of its comprehensive reporting and its reputation as a well-run line.

"Overcapacity and higher fuel costs have negatively affected the whole container shipping industry," said Ng Yat Chung, Neptune's chief executive.

"Despite volume growth, the high fuel costs and lower freight rates impacted our overall results ... We don't have a volume problem, but a rate problem. We will push hard for a rate increase on March 1."

Every non-UAE container shipping company to have reported results for last year so far has announced significant losses. Chile's CSAV has been worst hit with a $1.24bn net loss on $5.15bn revenue.

Denmark's AP Moller-Maersk is also expected to announce significant losses in its shipping division when it unveils full-year figures today.

Container trade contracted for the first time in theDanish firm's 50-year history in 2009 as shipments to the US and Europe from Asia plunged 21 per cent by volume before rebounding in 2010, according to the shipbroker Clarksons.

Figures were on the way down again last year, with shipping lines reporting a 10 per cent fall to $2,500 in average revenue per unit, despite volumes rising 5 per cent to 2.98m units. At the same time, average prices for bunker fuel, the heavy fuel oil that powers ships, were up 33 per cent on 2010.

Mohammed Al Muallem, the senior vice president and managing director for DP World, UAE Region, last month told the Middle East Liner Shipping Conference 2012 that the region's strong performance was due to its involvement with emerging and developing markets that "offered new frontiers for growth for the industry as a whole ... [and as a result] the Middle East is among those regions that have reported decent trade volumes over the past two years."

dblack@thenational.ae

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