Middle Eastern Ports – A Bright or Cloudy Future?

Blog October 12, 2015

Is it possible that Egypt’s new Suez Canal, and several brand new Middle Eastern ports may not be able to accommodate the world’s largest ships within five years of opening?

Growing vessel size was one of several challenges on the agenda at two recent conferences Genscape Vesseltracker attended in the Middle East this year: International Quality and Productivity Center's (IQPC) Egypt Ports and Waterways Summit in Cairo, Egypt and Port Development Week in Doha, Qatar.

Both conferences illustrated some of the enviable advantages that ports in the Middle East have, including their strategic location between Europe and Asia, and regional governments with both the resources and political will to invest in the future. However, Middle Eastern ports still face many challenges that require both large-scale physical investments and improved processes and transparency, which can be provided by Genscape Vesseltracker's AIS data.

Some of the challenges that ports in the Middle East face:

1. Accommodating larger and larger vessels

The size of the world’s largest ships has been increasing for years, but this growth has accelerated in the last decade and no one can agree on exactly how large ships could become. While accommodating increasingly large vessels, specifically container vessels over 20,000TEU, is a problem for ports everywhere, it poses a unique challenge in the Middle East due to the importance of Europe-Asia traffic through the Suez Canal and the fact that some Middle Eastern ports have outdated infrastructure.

So far, Middle Eastern leaders have managed to stay ahead of the problem. Egypt’s new Suez Canal project, which opened in August 2015, can accommodate the world’s largest ships, as can Jebel Ali port in Dubai, UAE, and new ports such as Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi and Hamad Port in Qatar. Though as ship sizes continue to increase, even these measures may not be enough.

2. Security

With certain Middle Eastern criminal and terrorist groups dominating global headlines (ex: pirates in the Gulf of Oman and the Islamic State), regional port operators must prove that they can defend national security and protect their clients’ assets, all while managing the movements of many thousands of cargo containers per day. Cybersecurity is also an increasing concern, since some of the measures used to increase physical security and productivity (ex: webcams, gate control systems, and Automated Guided Vehicles) can themselves become vulnerable to cyberattacks.

3. Keeping up with a faster, leaner, and more competitive world

The world is increasingly linked by “just-in-time” supply chains, and clients increasingly choose ports not only based on location, but on their ability to provide the best combination of security, reliability, and quality of service. Ports that do not adapt can be sure to lose business to their more versatile neighbors.

How can these challenges be addressed using Genscape Vesseltracker AIS data?

While some solutions require costly physical investments, such as dredging deeper channels and expanding turning basins to accommodate larger vessels, there is much that can be done by taking advantage of new data and processes through Genscape Vesseltracker AIS data. This data provides up-to-the-minute, real-time information on ship positions, speed, destinations and estimated times of arrivals (ETAs).

1. Ensure the appropriate teams are ready in time for a large vessel’s arrival

Genscape Vesseltracker Cockpit tool showing Saudi ArabiaThe larger the vessel, the smaller the margin for error in port planning and operations, especially if the vessel is so low in the water that it can only enter a port at high tide. With up-to-the-minute vessel positions, AIS data can be the key to ensuring that the appropriate teams are ready in time for a vessel’s arrival, and to make sure that its entry, berthing, and departure are managed safely and efficiently.

2. Manage risks, prevent attacks, and respond to piracy incidents

For many years now, anti-piracy experts have used AIS data for managing risks, preventing attacks, and responding to incidents quickly. Port operators can also use historical AIS data to profile expected vessels and dedicate extra resources to screening vessels originating from known terrorist or contraband hotspots, or countries with ongoing epidemics (ex: SARS, Ebola).

3. Competitive analysis

AIS data offers a wealth of opportunities for ports to analyze their operations and compare themselves with the competition. For example, terminal operators can find specific days of the week and times when their terminal is underutilized, and build a picture of how much nearby traffic could be attracted during these low periods.

Pearl River Dredging the entrace to Dubai Port4. Monitoring dredging operations

Additionally, historical AIS data is useful in dredging operations, by allowing different actors to monitor channel deepening operations and analyzing which areas can provide useful material for land reclamation. This also can be useful in monitoring where competitors are dredging to gather material for land reclamation, an important industry in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf Region.

Looking forward

Middle Eastern ports have a bright future, provided they react well to the challenges ahead. By combining large-scale capital investments with AIS data other automation and analysis tools, Middle Eastern ports and their home countries can take full advantage of the opportunities waiting for them, and provide a prosperous future for their clients and citizens.

If you are interested in more information about the use of AIS data in the Middle East, Genscape Vesseltracker will be speaking at the next Egypt Ports and Waterways Summit in Cairo in June 2016. Genscape Vesseltracker is pleased to be the official Vessel Tracking Sponsor of the 2016 Egypt Ports & Waterways Summit as well. More information on the summit will be available soon

Genscape Vesseltracker reports on over 144,000 vessels a day from five continents and in over 1,300 ports. There is no other provider who can customize a vessel tracking datafeed to meet your specific needs as Genscape Vesseltracker can. To learn more or request a free trial, please click here