x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Backlog at port may last for months

The Mina Zayed port is struggling with seven times its usual container traffic is expected to take months to clear.

Containers stacked up at the Mina Zayed Port, which is struggling to cope with a sevenfold increase in traffic.
Containers stacked up at the Mina Zayed Port, which is struggling to cope with a sevenfold increase in traffic.

ABU DHABI // The Mina Zayed port is struggling with up to seven times its usual container traffic, and a backlog is expected to take months to clear, sources at the port said. Ships are being forced to queue outside the harbour for days despite the port working at full capacity. Normally, they would wait only hours before unloading their containers. The congestion means that thousands of people and businesses will have to wait weeks before they receive their goods.

One ship has been anchored outside the port for 13 days because of the congestion, said an official at Abu Dhabi Terminals, which manages Mina Zayed. Mohammed al Mannaei, chief executive of Abu Dhabi Terminals, admitted that the volume of sea traffic had put the port under pressure. On Monday morning, five ships were anchored off the Abu Dhabi coast, unable to berth and unload their containers because of congestion at the port. The ships carry 2,000 to 6,000 containers each.

"The situation is chaotic down here," said a source who requested anonymity. "Abu Dhabi port just doesn't have the capacity to handle this many container ships. "The port has been a victim of its own success. They have been trying to attract more business but they were not prepared for the volume of ships which have been arriving. The port used to handle 500 to 1,000 containers a day. Now there are 7,000 containers arriving every day."

The source said ships used to unload and reload in two or three hours, but now they were taking two or three days. "The port simply doesn't have that much space. It is a very serious situation. The system is fully congested. The problem is there are only five gantry cranes available to unload the ships and about the same number of container berths." The source said the problem was exacerbated by Abu Dhabi's construction boom, which triggered a huge demand for raw materials such as steel and concrete supplies.

Previously ships would take about five hours to berth but now it can take several days. Venkat Ramani, general manager of shipping agents Rais Hassan Saadi, said: "The port has only four or five container berths so if more ships arrive than there are available berths, there are going to be delays. There are just too many ships arriving. The port is just not geared up for it ... ships are just queuing up for days waiting to berth."

Problems emerged in July and peaked in August, September and October but are easing a little, Mr Ramani said. Mr Mannaei, who conceded that the port was overcrowded, said the situation would improve as new technology and work practices were introduced. "The port is congested now and crowded," he said. "It is definitely under pressure because of the quantity of vessels arriving. We face some challenges at the port but we are introducing some new equipment, which will be working by January at the latest, that will significantly improve our productivity."

With the new equipment, containers could be stacked seven-high, easing congestion and improving turnaround times, Mr Mannaei said. He said the port would remain the import hub for Abu Dhabi until construction was completed on the US$2.16bn (Dh7.9bn) Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone in Taweelah, which is expected to open around 2011. Two people who recently moved to Abu Dhabi were told that the delays at the port meant they would not receive their belongings for several weeks.

A woman waiting for furniture and household goods to arrive was told the port was full and it would take an extra four weeks for her to receive her belongings.. Another woman also awaiting her belongings said: "I was told that my container could not be unloaded because the port was completely full. It sounds like a total mess." She said her container was due to arrive on Oct 6, then the date was put back.

"On Oct 28 I was told the port was full and I wouldn't hear anything until Nov 4 and that hopefully I should expect to receive my things around the middle of that month. "I have come to the UAE to make it my home, not something temporary, and here I am effectively living out of a suitcase weeks after my things should have arrived. I just feel disillusioned, frustrated and annoyed." chamilton@thenational.ae