Sea change: The state’s port facilities, capacity and transport links are being strengthened

The Ministry of Transport and Communications has made strong progress in mitigating construction material inflation and improving trade flows through a bold port expansion programme, which saw the multi-billion-dollar Hamad Port open in late 2015. The new port will offer relief for the existing, overcrowded Doha Port, further cementing Qatar as an important trans-shipment hub, while the long-term strategy of the Qatar Ports Management Company (Mwani) envisions transforming Doha Port into a dedicated cruise ship terminal, underpinning the state’s diversification strategy. Construction materials inflation will also be reduced as ports in Ras Laffan and Mesaieed shift operations to support the procurement programme of Qatar Primary Materials Company (QPMC).


Qatar’s portfolio of operational ports rose to six with the addition of Hamad Port in 2015, joining Doha Port, which is the main commercial gateway; Port of Ras Laffan, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal; Al Halul Island, an oil export port; Port of Mesaieed, an industrial non-oil export port; and Al Ruwais Port. The addition comes at a critical moment. Imports, particularly those of construction materials and machinery, have soared in recent years, with the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics reporting that a total of 5665 vessels called in Qatar in 2014, including 1098 oil tankers, 1518 gas tankers, 1043 container vessels and 786 bulk cargo carriers. Gross tonnage stood at 299.6bn, and net tonnage at 130.7bn.

Plans for a new commercial port in Doha were announced in June 2007, when officials unveiled the QR27bn ($7.4bn) Hamad Port. Spanning 26.5 sq km, the port is one of the world’s largest such greenfield projects, and will be rolled out in three phases. Phase one, which offers initial cargo handling capacity of 2m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and 2m tonnes of general cargo, will finish in 2016, while phases two and three will bolster total capacity to 6m TEUs, handled at three container berths. Hamad Port also offers a 17-metre draught, permitting giant Panamax vessels to make calls. In addition to its container facilities, the port will offer handling and storage areas, enabling it to handle 1.7m tonnes of general goods, 1m tonnes of food grains and 500,000 vehicles.

Special Zones

Further bolstering non-oil trade, the authorities also plan to establish Um Alhoul Special Economic Zone near Hamad Port, one of three planned special economic zones under development in Qatar. Um Alhoul will offer 34 sq km dedicated to light industrial activity, including petrochemicals, building materials, maritime metals, logistics and goods processing. Its first phase of development is expected to wrap up in the first quarter of 2018, having started in March 2015.

Importantly, Hamad Port will also provide trans-shipment links by rail and road to the rest of Qatar and the broader GCC, as it will be connected to the country’s planned long-distance freight and passenger railway. Innovation also played an important role in the port’s development, and it will offer advanced safety and security systems, as well as a dedicated Customs area that is expected to reduce clearing times for imports and exports. This should help Qatar reduce shipping costs, which have been a hindrance to trade growth. According to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2016” report, the state ranked 119th out of 189 countries in the “trading across borders” category due to long wait times and high costs.

Open For Business

In February 2015 what was previously known as the New Port Project was given its official title, Hamad Port. Following its naming, the port’s basin was flooded. The prime minister and minister of interior, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, was on hand to greet the first commercial vessel to call at the port in July 2015, and Hamad Port commenced early operations on December 24, as its general cargo and roll-on/ rolloff (ro-ro) facilities were officially inaugurated, allowing for the delivery of general goods, vehicle imports and, crucially, construction equipment.

This will alleviate near-term pressure on Doha Port, with Hamad Port’s first phase of operation expected to fully commence sometime before 2017. Further good news came on January 3, 2016, when the port simultaneously handled three large incoming vessels – two 200-metre ro-ro vessels and a 170-metre livestock carrier.

Doha Port  

Built in 1971 as the state’s sole commercial maritime gateway, Doha Port is located just off the Corniche in Doha, a central location that has exacerbated existing congestion in the densely populated downtown districts (see analysis). The port has undergone a number of expansions in recent years to reach nine quays and two container berths, although it remains constrained by its location and the relatively shallow waters of Doha Bay, with a maximum draught of 12.2 metres, insufficient for large cargo freighters.

The Port Services unit of state-owned operator Milaha, formally known as Qatar Navigation, assumed management duties at Doha Port in February 2011, implementing several measures aimed at improving efficiency, including the establishment of a single-window system and one-stop shop for cargo clearance, and a long-term berth planning system to minimise wait times. As a result of these measures, as well as installation of the Jade Master Care Terminal Operating System, the port improved productivity to 750,000 TEUs of annual throughput capacity, although it is only designed to handle 450,000 TEUs.

Ras Laffan

Construction material stockpiles are also expected to rise as a result of new port developments in Ras Laffan and Mesaieed. Qatar’s enormous LNG export industry is concentrated in Ras Laffan Industrial City, 80 km north of Doha, with the 56-sq-km Port of Ras Laffan acting as the world’s largest LNG export facility, comprising berths for LNG, liquid product, dry cargo and offshore support vessels (see Energy chapter).

In addition to supporting exports and growth in the state’s energy market, Ras Laffan will play a critical role in preventing an anticipated shortage of construction materials, after QPMC moved to shore up reserves of limestone aggregates and gabbro in 2015 (see Construction chapter). The strategy involved creating new storage jetties at all of Doha’s ports, which will facilitate easy access to required materials.

In December 2015 QPMC inaugurated two new stockpile and floating jetties at Ras Laffan – Yamal 1 and Yamal 2 – at a ceremony in Ras Laffan Industrial City. The project in its entirety will see construction of two additional jetties and a 1.8m-sq-metre stockyard, which is expected to be operational in late 2016. At present, Yamal 1 and 2 offer a total receiving capacity of 9m tonnes annually, and in the future the two jetties will act as an offloading point for aggregates.