REPORT: GCC Port Technology

With 37 major and minor ports across the GCC, and just ten ports accounting for 95% of all cargo traffic, amounting to an estimated 35-million TEU by 2020.
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With 37 major and minor ports across the GCC, and just ten ports accounting for 95% of all cargo traffic, amounting to an estimated 35-million TEU by 2020.

The region’s logistics sector will see throughput across the GCC’s ports grow to 35-million TEU, yet the total capacity of the 37 ports will be 50-million TEU, thanks to US $36-billion worth of investment.

And yet despite this, ports from Khorfakkan and Jebel Ali in the UAE, to Umm Qasr in Iraq, say that they are struggling to keep up with the growing capacity demands of shipping lines.

According to Flemming Dalgaard, CEO, Gulftainer, the largest privately-owned port operator in the region, the solution lies not so much in port expansion as in technology integration. “Two key trends that we are witnessing is the role of technology and integrated solutions. Technology is playing a greater role in the maritime industry as shipping companies as well as port operators are beginning to realise its potential,” he says.

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“This presents new opportunities for maritime innovations whether it is in digitization or data analytics. Technology developments are also bringing in greater transparency when it comes to goods in transit, and increasing overall efficiency in the supply chain,” he adds.

“Integration is another major trend we are witnessing in the industry, which represents a shift from focusing purely on sea freight to the entire supply chain. This is driven by a greater focus on customer needs as well as a search for margin in the door-to-door process, since sea freight is only a fraction of the costs of shipping goods from one point to another,” says Dalgaard.

For these reasons, Gulftainer has put in place an ambitious technology transformation strategy – key achievements include the implementation of its new Marine and Container Handling (MACH) terminal operating software, as well as the SAP S/4HANA business suite. “These systems have enhanced our customer service function and accelerated operational efficiencies,” explains Dalgaard.

Adoption of new technology solutions such as these, effectively increase the capacity of Gulftainer’s ports, such as Khorfakkan, the second-largest port in the region by TEU throughput, without the massive CAPEX required by terminal expansion. For this reason, Philly Teixeira, president EMEA at INTTRA, says “digitisation is accelerating, most notably when it comes to port operators.”

INTTRA is a neutral transaction network that connects carriers with their customers through an online portal and marketplace.

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“We facilitate the exchange of key shipment information across the ocean shipping supply chain reducing connectivity complexity and improving efficiency through a single connection, providing the capability to search ocean schedules, book and track containers and submit shipping instructions,” says Teixeira.

The adoption of digitization is gaining pace, driven by increased pressure from customers, governments, market conditions and carrier consolidation. This is forcing port operators to embrace technology to optimize operations. These ports are rapidly catching up with their global counterparts and sometimes even outperforming them.

“We’re seeing increased interest from shippers, carriers and from our customers who have come to realize that digitization is now a necessity,” says Teixeira. More than 700,000 container orders are initiated over INTTRA’s platform weekly, representing over a quarter of global ocean container trade and according to Teixeira, it accounts for a similar number of GCC ocean freight orders. “The availability of cost-effective labour coupled with a culture that values personal interaction meant digital solutions were not adopted as rapidly in the Middle East as in other regions.”

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