x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Sharjah port thrives in the storm

Gulftainer says container traffic grew last year and terminal expanded to cater for demand.

The Khor Fakkan port handled 2.75 million containers last year.
The Khor Fakkan port handled 2.75 million containers last year.

Container volumes at Khor Fakkan port on Sharjah's east coast have stacked up some of the strongest growth in the region despite the global slump in seaborne trade. The UAE's largest port lying outside the Strait of Hormuz handled 2.75 million 20-foot equivalent unit containers (TEUs) last year, which was an increase of 9.9 per cent on the year before, the latest figures from the port operator Gulftainer show.

Volumes fell by 7 per cent throughout the Middle East, with the UAE operations of DP World, including the region's largest port at Jebel Ali in Dubai, contracting by 6 per cent. "Khor Fakkan grew quite significantly and really bucked the trend, said Neil Davidson, the director of ports research at Drewry Shipping Consultants. "It could be that their customers were more effective at gaining market share."

Khor Fakkan port - the name of which means "Creek of Two Jaws" - is a key transshipment centre and only 25 per cent of containers handled there are bound for the local market. The rest are transferred to smaller ships and delivered on to India and Pakistan, east Africa, Oman and ports lying within the Gulf including Abu Dhabi and Iran. Its largest customers include CMA-CGM, the French shipping firm, and United Arab Shipping Company, which is owned by six Gulf nations.

"In a very difficult year we were reasonably happy with the performance," said Keith Nuttall, the commercial manager of Gulftainer. "The main lines have invested in very large ships and that favours Khor Fakkan, which is a deepwater port and is capable of handling the largest ships." Gulftainer boosted the number of gantry cranes to 20 last year, an increase of 43 per cent, as it sought to increase its capacity and stay a step ahead of its customers. The cranes were part of its second phase of expansion, which included adding another 400 metres of berthing.

The port has a maximum capacity of 4.5 million TEUs and Gulftainer is considering further expansions, Mr Nuttall said. "We need to stay one step ahead and we are assessing the future." Last year, Gulftainer won a five-year management contract to oversee the logistics operations at a plastics plant in the Al Gharbia region owned by Borouge, a key player in Abu Dhabi's industrialisation plans. Gulftainer will provide on-site logistics services at the plant, which produces polyolefins, a raw material in plastics.

Gulftainer's other initiatives include a logistics and haulage joint venture in Pakistan with Pak Shaheen Group; a logistics venture in Turkey formed last year with Demas International; and a 15-year port management concession in the Comoros Islands. It also has a logistics subsidiary, Momentum Logistics, in Sharjah. Mr Nuttall warned that the crisis that engulfed the global shipping industry was not over. Last year, shipping firms lost an estimated US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) as demand dropped and the once-vibrant Asia-to-Europe trade dropped dramatically, Drewry said.

It was the first reported fall in volumes since shipping by containers began about 50 years ago. Last month, for example, Dubai's DP World said that its volumes across its global network fell by 10 per cent, not including ports that joined its network mid-year. igale@thenational.ae