In 2017 the newly established Hamad Port found itself centre stage in the country’s response to the economic blockade imposed by some neighbouring countries. Existing maritime trade routes to the blockading countries were closed and quickly replaced with new partnerships in Oman, Kuwait and further afield. “The blockade set the pace for rapid development in Qatar,” Mohammed Khalifa Al Sada, chairman and managing director of domestic dry bulk company S’hail Shipping and Maritime Services, told OBG. “A lot of focus was put into the maritime sector and Qatar became the landing place for all cargo that used to be transit elsewhere.” On land reclaimed from the sea, deep harbours were created at Hamad Port, and its Container Terminal 1 (CT1) was completed. The facility has played a key role in bringing imports of vital supplies into the country, with most goods coming into Hamad Port or Al Ruwais Port, while the older port at Doha was developed into a cruise liner facility. In 2019 Qatar Ports Management Company (Mwani Qatar) handled 4084 vessels, some 905,000 tonnes of general cargo, 77,900 roll-on/ rolloff units, 1.3m containers, 379,000 tonnes of building materials and 753,000 livestock (by headcount).
In 2019 work began on the construction of facilities at Container Terminal 2 (CT2), which, like CT1, will have a capacity of 2m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). QT erminals, which is jointly owned by Mwani Qatar and Milaha, also known as Qatar Navigation, is responsible for operations at CT1. It has also been awarded the design, development and operation contract for CT2. In December 2019 Qatar Building Company began work on the first two phases of the project, due to be completed within 12 months. CT2 has a total area of 403,500 sq metres, with a draft of 17 metres. Its berth length is 1200 metres. The facility will be equipped with remotely operated quay cranes, rubber-tyred gantry cranes, empty container handlers, tractors and trailers. New buildings at the site will include a substation, generator house, pumping equipment and amenities. There will also be workshops, fuelling stations, container pits and washing facilities. The new equipment will be operated remotely, with the potential to introduce more automation in the future.
By expanding its ports Qatar is hoping to capture increased international demand for shipping facilities. In November 2019 Mwani Qatar and Swissbased Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) signed a deal that will see Hamad Port become a regional hub for the Swiss company’s trans-shipment business. Hamad Port will handle some 100,000 TEUs per year for MSC from 2020, with capacity growing to 1m TEUs – half the capacity of CT2 – by 2023. MSC will use the port to load and unload containers, re-exporting contents destined for other ports in the region.
“The agreement contributes to the optimal utilisation of the capabilities of Hamad Port and will enhance the import and export operations through it,” Abdulla Al Khanji, CEO of Mwani, said at the signing of the agreement. “It also contributes to the utilisation of the differential advantages of Qatar’s strategic location on international maritime trade routes and enhances Hamad’s position and role in the national economy in line with Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030).”
The expanded port will serve the new industries to be developed as part of QNV 2030, which includes the construction of one of the Middle East’s largest ethane crackers. In the shorter term, the port offers spare export capacity. “At the moment, exports are mostly shipping out empty containers, as there are no major manufacturing bases in Qatar,” Neville Bissett, CEO of QT erminals, told OBG. “In recent months the population and its spending power have remained relatively stable, so there has not been any expectation of a major increase in imports for consumption.”
Another objective for QT erminals is to leverage its port management expertise to expand its international footprint. In January 2020 the company announced it had won a 35-year contract to develop, manage and operate the Olvia Port on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. QT erminals has pledged to invest around $120m in the port during the concession period. “This concession is a major achievement for QT erminals, which honours its strategy for expanding in overseas investments as a Qatari company specialised in seaports management,” Jassim Saif Ahmed Al Sulaiti, the minister of transport and communications, said when the agreement was announced.
On the home front, Mwani Qatar has been upgrading the Al Ruwais Port, a facility that has continued to grow in significance as a gateway for food and other supplies from nearby countries during the economic blockade. The Al Ruwais Port can handle general cargo receiving, as well as fresh and frozen foodstuffs arriving in reefer containers. Mwani Qatar’s investment in improving facilities at Al Ruwais involved dredging the navigation channel and port docks to a draft of 10 metres. Its six marine berths arranged along a 1414-metre frontage can welcome small and medium-sized ships. According to the Planning and Statistics Authority, Iran remained a relatively modest trading partner despite increasing its trade with Qatar. In the first three quarters of 2019 some QR645m ($177m) in goods, at a combined weight of 861m kg, was imported from Iran. The US embargo on trade with Iran, particularly regarding its oil and gas products, means that existing imports are a fraction of the potential for trade between Qatar and Iran. In August 2019 Iran’s southern port of Bushehr announced it had signed a new contract to operate a shipping line to Doha carrying passengers and cargo. Passengers from Iran would be charged $200-500 for four- to five-day tours, with transit times of 12-20 hours.
Doha Port is rapidly developing as Qatar’s cruise destination. In June 2019 the Ministry of Transport and Communications completed dredging works in the harbour, removing 3m tonnes of silt from the approach channel to allow more than one large cruiser to dock simultaneously. October 2019 then saw a 6000-sq-metre terminal inaugurated at the port that will serve as a temporary docking space for two seasons, with a new permanent structure to be completed in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The same month Mwani Qatar announced that 74 calls by cruise liners were anticipated in the 2019/20 season, which runs from October to May, with up to 186,000 cruise guests coming ashore. This would represent increases of 70% and 63% in ships and visitors, respectively, compared to the 2018/19 season. The Mein Schiff 5, operated by Germany’s TUI Group, was the first liner to arrive in 2019/20 and was scheduled to call at Doha eight additional times over the season. However, the season’s strong start was disrupted by the global spread of Covid-19 in early 2020 and the resulting halt of much international travel. TUI is one of many tourism companies monitoring the virus, and made the decision in March 2020 to suspend the majority of its operations.