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PORT FOCUS: Containers, conflict and gas boost Aqaba

Aqaba is positioning itself as a regional hub for two key types of cargo that are seeing sustained growth in the Middle East.
Aqaba is positioning itself as a regional hub for two key types of cargo that are seeing sustained growth in the Middle East.
Aqaba is positioning itself as a regional hub for two key types of cargo that are seeing sustained growth in the Middle East.

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Port of Aqaba is positioning itself as a regional hub for two key types of cargo that are seeing sustained growth in the Middle East: containers and gas, while the recent spread of the ISIS conflict to the Lebanese border with Syria has forced a re-routing of Lebanese cargo through Aqaba to the rest of the Middle East.

This has boosted demand further, but would likely have created congestion within Aqaba Container Terminal (ACT) if it weren’t for a major expansion project undertaken in 2010 and due for completion this year. The US $140-million expansion of the terminal has been conducted in several phases by BAM International that allowed the terminal to remain in operation.

The expansion project will see an additional 200 metres of new quay and the installation of two new Ship-to-Shore (STS) cranes and four Rubber Tire Gantry cranes (RTGs). The redevelopment of the quayside will allow the terminal to handle three of the world’s largest ocean carriers simultaneously and will increase annual capacity to 1.5 million TEU, according to terminal operator APM Terminals, which manages the terminal in a joint partnership with Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC).

This expansion also comes amid strong interest in Aqaba from the Middle East’s leading shipping line, United Arab Shipping Company (UASC), and the world’s largest shipping line, Mearsk. The company’s local office, Maersk Line Jordan in February this year launched the ME5 service, which aims to improve maritime transport networks with the kingdom’s only port, says the company’s regional managing director Anne Gronbjerg.

The new service will directly link the port of Aqaba to the ports of Jeddah, Salala, Djibouti, Colombo and Chennai in the East, in addition to Port Said, Algeciras, Valencia and Genoa in the West.

UASC at the end of May opened a shipping agency in Jordan to be managed in-house. UASC primarily imports food, construction materials and home appliances into Jordan and exports raw materials with three weekly services calling at the country’s Aqaba port, two of which are direct from the Far East. The new agency will provide better service to Jordanian freight forwarders and increase throughput at the port.

Also in late May, the Port of Aqaba made headlines again with the launch of the new LNG terminal and the port’s first shipment of liquefied natural gas from Qatar. Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Ibrahim Saif has predicted that the Aqaba Gas Port and the power generation sector will experience a "quantum leap" that will not only cover Jordan's needs for electricity, but might also result in a surplus that can be exported to Egypt, which suffers a scarcity of gas.

Aqaba directly translated into English denotes a steep path or ascent, it was likely named after the strategic importance of the city when it was founded more than 6,000 years ago at the junction of trading routes between Asia and Africa. It’s true then that some things never change.

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