The Middle East shipping fleet is expected to grow 11 per cent to 2,273 vessels within the next three years as orders are delivered from the world's shipyards, a study says.
The greatest growth will be in the container ship fleet and oil tankers, research by the UK shipping consultant Fred Doll reveals, after record orders in the boom years between 2004 and 2008 when global trade surged and oil prices quadrupled.
But as the industry recovers from the global downturn, significant risks of late delivery and cancellations remain, delegates were told at the Seatrade Middle East conference that opened in Dubai yesterday. Anywhere from 5 to 35 per cent of ship orders are vulnerable to slippages, said Chris Hayman, the chairman of Seatrade, a shipping research organisation.
"It is a huge difference. The sheer uncertainty of this is a new phenomenon for the industry," Mr Hayman said.
Regional shippers are benefiting from a rebound to global trade. DP World, the ports operator based in Dubai, said container volumes grew 14 per cent across its global network in the third quarter. The biggest gains were recorded in Australia and the Americas.
The fleet of dry cargo vessels used to carry iron ore, grain and alumina is expected to add 10 more ships to take the total to 631.
Scott Jones, the chief executive of Emirates Ship Investment Company based in Abu Dhabi, said the dry cargo transport industry was already relatively strong due to the huge amount of iron ore and coal being imported by China.
But there is also growing demand in the Middle East, Mr Jones said. The largest project under construction is a steel pellet plant in Sohar, Oman, which is backed by the global industrial company Vale and will require 10 million tonnes a year of iron ore. With water supplies under pressure in Saudi Arabia, the country's agricultural output will be affected and it is expected to require increasing grain imports, Mr Jones added.
Egypt is also an important importer of grain, from Russia before that country's ban on wheat exports, but now from the US.
"Overall, there are quite significant advances and increases in this region, which are quite interesting to local companies," Mr Jones said.
Shipping rates fluctuate week to week in the container trade, said Waleed al Dawood, the chief operating officer of United Arab Shipping Company. But they were well above the troughs of last year, he added, declining to give estimates.
According to the Frank Doll research, the region's fleet of offshore vessels will grow 12 per cent to 370 vessels. The fleet of oil tankers will grow 21 per cent to 565 vessels if all orders are delivered.