Mina Zayed, Abu Dhabi's main port for more than 40 years, handled its last container yesterday as the ports operator completed the strategic redirection to Khalifa Port near Taweelah, the region's newest and only semi-automated terminal.
Abu Dhabi Terminals (ADT) has completed the switch three months ahead of schedule and less than three months after Khalifa Port began commercial operations at the start of September.
However, Mina Zayed, which opened in June 1972 making it just six months younger than the UAE, will continue to operate, with the opening of a new cruise liner terminal serving downtown Abu Dhabi, and berths to handle dry bulk cargo, such as grain and steel for infrastructure projects, and roll-on/roll-off trailers.
The last ship to use the container terminal was the Jolly Arancione voy 290, a 1,800 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) mixed cargo-container ship operated by the Italian-based Messina Lines, and watching her unload was Captain Giordano Gelasini, the resident regional director for the Middle East for Messina Lines.
"We were the first to call at Abu Dhabi and we will be the last," he said. "We have more history with Mina Zayed than any other shipping line. We were the first to believe in this city and we've grown together."
Since the first Messina Lines ship arrived at the new container terminal, the family-run business has shipped more than 600,000 TEUs through the facility in more than 400 shipments; many from Genoa via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.
The cargoes brought by the Italian line have been used in some of Abu Dhabi's most famous projects, including Sheikh Zayed Mosque and Ferrari World. And exports by Emirates Steel, Borouge, a local plastics manufacturer, and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company have sailed on Messina Lines ships.
"For many years, Mina Zayed was our hub for the upper and lower Gulf and the Indian subcontinent, but now, we are looking ahead to the new and very impressive Khalifa Port. Its technology and infrastructure will enable it to turn around vessels much more efficiently, and the time saved will benefit our customers," said Captain Gelasini.
"Personally, I'm leaving a piece of my heart here," he added, as he stood on the bridge, watching the gantry cranes unload containers for storage among the remaining boxes in the yard.
Last year, Mina Zayed handled about 770,000 TEUs, a 47 per cent increase on the number of containers handled the previous year. But with an initial capacity to handle 2.5 million TEUs annually and the potential to expand to 5 million, Khalifa Port dwarfs Mina Zayed's capacity. It has six of the world's largest ship-to-shore cranes and an automated stacking system that is more advanced than any other port facility in the Middle East. Its deep sea berths can accommodate the largest container vessels.
"With the strategic redirection of container traffic to Khalifa Port, Abu Dhabi's ports have the capacity to handle more containers, more cargo and more cruise liners," said Martijn van de Linde, the chief executive of ADT.
"Khalifa Port is an engine driving Abu Dhabi's economic diversification. The deep berths will enable us to take the big 'main line' ships from Europe and Asia for the first time and eliminate the need for feeder ships to service the local market from larger regional ports. This is a crucial step on Abu Dhabi's journey to becoming an international shipping hub."
The Messina Lines are the last of 24 major shipping lines to move their local container businesses to the new port at Taweelah.