ABU DHABI // UAE ports are expecting record performances this year as imports for construction materials, foodstuffs and cars flood in on the back of the region's economic boom. In one sign of the unprecedented growth, commodity imports surged 69 per cent at Mina Zayed Port in Abu Dhabi from January to July, according to the operator, Abu Dhabi Terminals. Across the UAE, port operators are racing to upgrade equipment and facilities and keep ahead of the frantic pace of growth in the region. The surging demand has at times hampered operations, with container ships subjected to heavy delays outside of DP World's Jebel Ali terminals last month.
Mina Zayed is nearing full capacity as the emirate enjoys a construction boom, following the opening of the property sector to foreign ownership. In one such project, Al Raha Beach, Aldar Properties is constructing apartments and villas in a 10km-long development that will one day house up to 120,000 residents. In the first seven months of the year, steel and iron imports to Abu Dhabi have surged 76 per cent to 1.2 million metric tonnes, while imports of plywood for construction surged 351 per cent to 43,500 metric tonnes. The number of container moves at Mina Zayed reached 200,000 in the same period.
"The growth in imports has exceeded our expectations," said Mohammed al Mannaei, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Terminals, noting that 80 per cent of goods arriving into the emirate do so by sea. Abu Dhabi Terminals holds the management contract at Mina Zayed until 2011, when the port is expected to be shut down as sea trade shifts to Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone in Taweelah, which is currently under construction. The plan to shift operations at Taweelah has raised concerns that the growth in imports may soon be too large for Mina Zayed to handle, and 2011 is too long to wait. The port is already near capacity and will see even greater business in the fourth quarter, when car makers traditionally ship new models.
Mr Mannaei said the port had enough capacity to work with until the move to Taweelah in 2011. "But if we cannot accommodate the growth, then we will try to reduce the storage period for some items," he said. ADT is co-owned by Mubadala Development, an investment vehicle of the Abu Dhabi Government, and the state-controlled Abu Dhabi Ports. ADT is managed by DP World under a 2006 contract. At Jebel Ali, the largest container terminal in the Gulf, container volumes increased 22 per cent in the first half of the year. Faced with the strong growth, DP World increased its annual container handling capacity by one million moves in the span of 10 days last month, by installing new gantry cranes and other equipment.
Gulftainer, which operates Sharjah's terminals on the Arabian Gulf and on the east coast of the country in Khor Fakkan, is in the middle of "very significant" investments to upgrade its facilities, said Keith Nuttall, the commercial manager. At Sharjah Container Terminal, shipping lines have begun servicing the port with larger ships holding as many as 4,000 containers at a time. The increased demand has led Gulftainer and the Sharjah Ports Authority to deepen the draft by one metre to 12.5 metres, and also buttress the quay wall.
Two new large gantry cranes, called post-panamax cranes after the size of the ship they can handle, also arrived last month and are due to become operational in the coming weeks. The improvements should increase the capacity of the port by 20 per cent, Mr Nuttall said. Gulftainer declined to give specific details, saying only that volume had increased dramatically in the past three years. To keep up with demand, Gulftainer has also increased capacity at Khor Fakkan Container Terminal. It increased its docking capacity with 400 metres of quay in 2006 and plans to add another 400 metres during a second phase. Civil works were expected to be completed by the end of this year, Mr Nuttall said.