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A glimpse of times gone by

Dubai Creek remains lifeline of the emirate's trading heritage

Gulf News

Dubai: The Creek has always evoked memories of the city's trading past, among both curious tourists and the residents that venture there.

One can see trucks laden with goods and labourers hurriedly loading dhows with cargo ranging from car tyres and batteries, to soft drinks and fabrics destined for neighbouring countries and beyond.

Not a creek at all, but a slim, serpentine harbour, this is where Dubai began — it is its reason for being. A branch of the Bedouin tribe the Bani Yas settled here in 1833, led by Shaikh Maktoum Bin Butti Al Falasi, founding not only Dubai but also the Al Maktoum ruling family.

Soon it became a busy port of fishermen, pearl divers and merchants. Dubai's entrepreneurial spirit arose early: by 1894 it was a free trade port, luring business from its neighbours. As a result, Dubai attracted settlers from Iran, India and Balochistan.

The facilities for trade and free enterprise were enough to make Dubai a natural haven for Iranian merchants who left Bandar Lengah after the introduction of high customs duties there in 1902. These people were mostly of distant Arab origin and looked across to the Arab side of the Gulf, finally making their homes in Dubai.

The creek, 14km long, divides Dubai into Bur Dubai and Deira. The creek now has eight wharfs, each capable of handling 31 ships of up to 800 tonnes. Around 720,000 tonnes of cargo pass through the creek each year. Only wooden ships are allowed to enter the creek to keep its traditional features. Since the early days, when Dubai was a centre for the pearl trade, Dubai's trade development was attributed to the creek. Crossing the creek during those times meant a long and arduous journey around the end of it or a ride in an abra, the small wooden boats that carry passengers to this day. Today, the two sides are connected via bridges and a tunnel.

In the early years, only small dhows were able to enter the creek. Bigger vessels had to unload goods into small boats at its entrance.

The late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, even before he became the Ruler of Dubai, realised the strategic importance of the creek. He ordered an economic and technical study in 1954 on deepening and widening the waterway.

Dredging operations

Initially, a canal 4,000 feet long and six feet deep was dug and in the second stage sheet piling was laid on both sides of the creek.

As a result, shipping traffic increased and vessels of up to 500 deadweight tonnes were able to enter.

Upon completion of the dredging operations, it was necessary to link both sides with permanent bridges, hence Maktoum Bridge was completed in 1964.

With the discovery of oil in 1967, a drawbridge section was introduced in 1968 to facilitate the movement of tankers.

With the increasing trade and hence the increase in the number of cars and other vehicles it was vital to solve the problems of traffic jams on Maktoum Bridge. The Al Shindagah tunnel beneath the creek was completed in two years in 1967.