Jebel Ali shrugs off recession impact

T. E. Raja Simhan Recently in Dubai | Updated on February 13, 2011

A view of the Jebel Ali container terminal operated by DP World. Photo : T.E. Raja Simhan   -  Business Line

The second half of 2010 was a ‘bumper' year for Jebel Ali, the world's eighth largest container terminal – an indication that the future is looking good. While it is difficult to catch up with the Chinese terminals in terms of volume, Jebel Ali, the flagship of DP World, is today a major hub port in the region, helping cargo travel from South East to the West and vice versa.

The Jebel Ali terminal located 35 km southwest of the city of Dubai offers a breathtaking view. Hundreds of quay cranes are continuously busy loading and unloading containers from the ships, and thousands of trucks crisscross the wharfs carrying boxes in and out of the terminal. Consider this – terminal one has 47 gantry cranes while the second terminal has 29 gantry cranes. Jebel Ali's total capacity is around 14 million TEUs (twenty foot equivalent units), and last year it handled over 10 million TEUs – equal to India's total handling.

“We are growing back slowly but cannot go back to the levels that we witnessed in 2008. We then had a double digit growth, while we need to be happy with single digit growth,” Mr. Mohammed Al-Muallem, Senior Vice President and MD, UAE, DP World, said.

Jebel Ali is not a local port but a hub port for the entire region. “We serve the Gulf countries and move cargo to Iraq, Iran, sub-continent of India, East Africa and Central Eastern countries. We are serving nearly two billion people, and being part of the supply chain,” Mr Al-Muallem said.


During the financial crisis the terminal was affected the least when compared with Europe or the US, where the drop was in double digits; it was 6 per cent here in 2009.

In the last two years, the terminal has been experiencing growth again. Jebel Ali is today the single biggest terminal in the world managed by one management and one system, Mr Al-Muallem said.

The UAE (with Jebel Ali as the leading port) handled 11.6 million TEU in 2010, 4 per cent ahead of 2009, with the fourth quarter delivering growth of 7 per cent, handling over three million TEU.

The performance of the region in the second half of 2010 sees a return to peak levels previously seen in 2008 with 6.1 million TEU handled in the six-month period. Non-container volumes in the UAE have shown improvement in second half of the year, but remain at slightly lower levels for the full year when compared with the same period last year. Jebel Ali terminal ended the year 2010 with a record second-half performance. “We are seeing the region back at 2008 levels reflecting the strong growth in both the UAE and the broader Middle East economies with our terminals support. Today, Jebel Ali is the premier gateway for cargo in to the Middle East,” Mr Al-Muallem said.


When DP World built the second terminal in 2007, it was designed to receive ships of 12,000 TEUs and above.

“We made sure that we had the right draught (17 metre); right equipment and right cranes,” Mr Al-Muallem said. The biggest ships of today, such as Emma Maersk and other MSC ships of around 14,000 TEUs can come to the terminal. The terminal can even handle ships of around 18,000 TEUs. It is not the draught but the cranes and design, including width, that is the issue.

“It is our philosophy to be ahead of the capacity, customer requirement, and we are in constant dialogue with customers to know their needs,” he said. According to Mr Al-Muallem, the next biggest expansion in the zone will be the new Al Maktoum International Airport, which will be one of the world's biggest passenger and cargo airports. It will make Jafza one of the world's most efficient sea-air hubs.

The upcoming six-lane highway is designed to directly connect the zone with the airport, cutting transhipment time to just 20 minutes, he said.

The success of Jebel Ali port could be largely attributed to Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) and access to the airport nearby. “The zone has been a major factor for our terminal's success,” Mr Al-Muallem said.

The zone accounts for 25 per cent of all container throughputs through the Jebel Ali Port and 12 per cent of all air freight at Dubai International Airport, he said.

Established in 1985, Jafza is spread over an area of 48 sq km and is home to over 6,400 companies, including over 120 of the Fortune Global 500 enterprises, from across the world. It has sustained over 160,000 jobs in the UAE through its companies and accounted for more than 50 per cent of Dubai's exports.

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Published on February 13, 2011
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