Abu Dhabi's port moved a record 390,087 containers last year for 16 per cent growth, but early indicators show the economic slowdown could knock last year's imports off their highs. The shipping industry is reeling from the global financial crisis and local property firms and traders have already begun to slow the pace of their business activity, according to local transport companies. Freight forwarders are seeing a drop in orders in the first six weeks of the year, compared with the same period last year. "Last year was fantastic but this year it is going back to normal," said Bhaskar Pushparajan, the Abu Dhabi branch manager of Kuehne & Nagel, one of the largest freight forwarders in the region. Mina Zayed is the main port into Abu Dhabi and is operated by Abu Dhabi Terminals, a firm owned by Mubadala Development and managed by DP World. It will be phased out starting in 2011 as shipments move to the Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone in Taweelah. The company said in a report that imports of construction materials were the biggest gainers last year. Steel and iron shipments rose 90 per cent to 2.3 tonnes as property firms began building the first leasehold units for overseas buyers at Reem Island, Al Raha Beach and inland projects such as Al Reef. But the liquidity crisis has raised the possibility that construction could slow this year. The chief executive for Abu Dhabi Terminals, Mohammed al Mannaei, said last year was an excellent year, with growth in all of the port's activities. Bulk cargo gained 181 per cent and plywood was up 182 per cent, while timber imports fell 9 per cent. The port also welcomed 71,467 cruise ship passengers; a 70 per cent increase on the previous year. Reflecting Abu Dhabi's economic and population growth, car imports increased 27 per cent to 92,944 units, and imports of containers were up 23 per cent. But container exports decreased 7 per cent. Logistics contracts with oil and gas projects, and those related to government infrastructure projects, remained in high demand, said Houssam Mahmoud, the Abu Dhabi manager of Agility, one of the region's largest logistics firms. Agility has handled much of the work transporting defence equipment for companies participating at the IDEX military exhibition that starts next week. Mr Mahmoud said there had been a recent drop in shipping general cargo, such as food and consumer goods, into Abu Dhabi as traders had started slowing down imports. But he said: "The port has everything to gain. It started almost from scratch a few years ago and now it is taking some market share from Jebel Ali [port]." Inbound shipments are starting to fall off last year's record highs, according to Mr Pushparajan. "We see this going again in a southerly direction," he said. But Mr al Mannaei said: "We believe in 2009 general cargo will maintain its levels, while we do expect growth in container shipments to build up in the second, third and fourth quarters." firstname.lastname@example.org
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