Abu Dhabi: In 1972, Abu Dhabi had its first local port and since then the city’s trade and economy have forever changed.
Port Zayed, or Mina Zayed as it is locally known, opened up new horizons to the city’s trade business and oil and gas sector.
“Before Mina Zayed, goods had to reach Abu Dhabi in other ways, so they were discharged very far away maybe in Saudi [Arabia], maybe in Dubai, maybe in other places and cargo had to travel by road,” said Martijn Van de Linde, Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi Terminals.
“So everything that had to be imported or exported to Abu Dhabi would have been tremendously expensive,” he said.
By building a local port that is efficient and that accommodates trade, the cost of trade went down and growth was fuelled even more. Anything from consumer goods to construction materials to oil and gas materials was coming through Mina Zayed.
“For the first 10 years or so, it was mainly a port for general cargo,” he said.
Ten years later came containerisation.
“In the early 80s part of the port was then transformed to being a container terminal because then that became the new mode of transportation.”
Since then half of the port has been functioning as a container terminal.
Today, Mina Zayed’s general cargo has grown to five million tons and its container traffic to 800,000 containers a year, with most of the growth being accelerated in the last couple of years.
“The driver has been the investments in the Abu Dhabi economy, successful economic policies, the GDP growth of Abu Dhabi and the significant investment in infrastructure and the economic diversification,” Linde said. Linde said that there’s been a shift taking place between the balance of imports and exports in the capital where ships are no longer just coming to discharge but also to load products. “You can see up to 2009 or 2010 more than 90 per cent of the cargo handled at Mina Zayed was import and only a very small percentage is export. Now that balance is shifting. The growth we’ve seen last year is predominantly export growth which means that those basic industries they’re starting to produce,” he said.
Today, the breakdown for trade is at 80 per cent for imports and 20 per cent for imports, where before it was at 95 per cent for exports and 5 per cent imports.
On a daily average, anywhere between five to 10 vessels go in and out of Mina Zayed. “That’s everything from small ships to oil tankers. So at any given time there are 20 to 30 ships at a time.”
Forty years later, Mina Zayed is fully utilised and Abu Dhabi needs larger port capacity, which is why Khalifa Port is soon to come online.
“The port can’t grow here, so it has to go to a new location and also because the city centre of Abu Dhabi needs to be decongested.”
Currently all the traffic and trucks going to and from the port have been a burden to the city centre’s residential area.
“It shouldn’t be,” he said. “In Europe and the United States the process of ports moving away from the residential areas started in the early 80s and now it’s starting here.”
“Mina Zayed has served the Abu Dhabi economy well, but now different specifications of infrastructure are needed. Bigger ships need to be able to come in to the port.”
Khalifa Port, the new port for Abu Dhabi, is expected to put Abu Dhabi on the world trading map. The multi-billion dollar investment will take Abu Dhabi’s port from a local one to a hub port for the region. With Khalifa Port, Abu Dhabi now has the opportunity with Khalifa Port to become a direct port with goods coming directly to the emirate.
As ADT gets ready to move its container business to Khalifa Port, the rest of Mina Zayed will continue as a general cargo port — at least for the next few years,
“Half of Mina Zayed will be decommissioned and returned to the government,” he said.
However, what is to become of Mina Zayed in the long run remains unknown. “The plan is not definite yet,” he said.
The introduction of a full cruise business which already has some presence at the port could be one of the main activities taking place at the port and one that would put Abu Dhabi on the tourism map. Last year 160,000 passengers have been on cruises that have embarked and disembarked at the port, Linde said.
“[The port] could very well be a function for that cruise industry here, but then in a different shape,” he said. “That seems to be the obvious thing to do but that’s not our decision as ADT.”
However, for ADT it’s a great time for celebration not just of 40 years at Mina Zayed but also celebration of a new port, a new location and new goals.
“There are people at ADT who have worked for 30 years and their heart is here in Mina Zayed and they remember the days of the late Shaikh Zayed. There’s a lot of history to be proud of and we should be proud of that. Industrial heritage is as good as any heritage,” he said. “But it’s time to go to the next phase. With Khalifa Port, ADT has an opportunity to do something new for the industry...it’s [going to be] a completely different world.”