Interview: Sheikh Khaled bin Abdullah bin Sultan Al Qasimi

How has the economic environment changed in recent times, and how are Sharjah’s ports maintaining their competitive advantage?

SHEIKH KHALED BIN ABDULLAH BIN SULTAN AL QASIMI: Sharjah Ports Authority adopts a periodic preventive maintenance programme to ensure that our facilities are in a good state to handle ships and receive and store cargo at all times. We also continuously upgrade the facilities in line with changing cargo trends. All open storage areas and cargo working zones adjacent to berths are being resurfaced at Port Khalid, which is being carried out in phases to ensure cargo operations are not hampered. Cargo handling equipment and gears are constantly monitored and maintained and, when the need arises, new equipment is added as well.

While these upgrades involve a lot of investment, it is important for us to make this commitment in order to offer the best facilities and services to our customers. Similar upgrades are being done at Hamriyah Port and Khorfakkan Port as well.

However, new alliances and realignment taking place in the container shipping industry, and the impending arrival of the latest generation container vessels with capacities of over 20,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, pose their own challenges. Still, we handle such a diversified spread of cargo at our ports that even in a seemingly weak economic scenario we are optimistic about seeing growth in overall cargo tonnage in the coming years.

What policies are considered important for Sharjah’s ports and the maritime industry as a whole?

SHEIKH KHALED: The macro policy framework for the maritime industry is directed at the federal level under guidelines of the International Maritime Organisation and is applicable across all seven emirates. At the emirate level, we make policy decisions regarding investments, necessary infrastructure, choices to target and cater to specific segments of the industry, and creating strengths to serve those segments. We also focus on areas like shipbuilding, ship repair and maintenance for private players, and encouraging investment by creating the right investment climate.

Port Khalid has traditionally supported the offshore service industry and is the principal hub for such activities, while being the port which handles more UAE-bound containerised cargo than trans-shipment cargo. Khorfakkan Port is the leading trans-shipment port for containers and its position is further enhanced owing to its strategic location outside the Arabian Gulf. Hamriyah Port serves as the industrial port, handling raw materials for the food industry, and steel and building materials, in addition to being a major player in oil storage and distribution. With this specialisation, each port plays its part in making Sharjah a key maritime centre for the gulf region.

What efforts detailed the latest Khorfakkan Port expansion, and what is the expected impact on Sharjah’s tourism sector?

SHEIKH KHALED: The latest expansion that was carried out at Khorfakkan is fully operational and is handling the biggest container ships plying the seas. The government is embarking on a project to enhance the hinterland connectivity of the port with the rest of the emirates to facilitate easy movement of containers from the port, reducing the time it takes to reach Sharjah Inland Container Depot and the southern emirates.

We are presently handling cruise vessels during the cruise season at Khorfakkan Port in one of the container berths. While this may appear a bit odd to some, it has actually provided the cruise guests with a unique experience of being at a buzzing commercial harbour. They are surrounded by the scenic beauty of Khorfakkan, with mountains on one side and beautiful sandy beaches adjacent to the harbour. Construction of a cruise terminal is being contemplated and a decision will be made after consulting all relevant parties.