New Abu Dhabi cruise terminal to ‘preserve’ the history of Zayed Port

Vessels capable of carrying thousands of passengers represent a golden opportunity in tourism for Abu Dhabi, and the ports operator is now working to extend capacity.

The luxury cruise liner MSC Lirica berths at Zayed Port in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath / The National
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A permanent cruise terminal at Zayed Port will be ready in about two-and-a-half years’ time, according to Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC).

“We have identified a location for the permanent cruise terminal. We have conducted a competition among four architectural firms to design an iconic building. We are evaluating the designs and will soon announce the winner,” Mr Al Shamisi said.

ADPC intends to transform an existing warehouse within the port for this purpose. The plan is to be able to handle at least three vessels simultaneously that can carry up to 2,500 passengers. “The terminal will aim to preserve the tradition and history of Zayed Port. And as it is the first experience of tourists entering Abu Dhabi, we intend it to reflect the spirit of the city as well,” Mr Al Shamisi said.

Abu Dhabi's cruise sector has been growing steadily since it first started receiving ships in 2006. The 2013-14 cruise season ended late last month when the final ship, MV Europa 2, sailed away from Zayed Port. Fourteen ships made 75 calls bringing in 189,000 passengers. Although Mr Al Shamisi would not reveal projections for the upcoming season, there are plans to attract more operators and increased cooperation with ports within the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, which is showing a keen interest.

Royal Caribbean International, one of the world's leading cruise line, said in March that it would return to the region for the 2015-16 season and would deploy its Splendour of the Seas. It expects to bring in more than 32,000 tourists.

As the chairman of the Abu Dhabi cruise development committee, Mr Al Shamisi said various stakeholders such as Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi Airports Company, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and even hotels and malls are working together to draw more cruise liners. "The Louvre, Guggenheim and Sheikh Zayed Museum when they are ready will only add to the value proposition."

On the subject of cruise liners’ issue of requiring multiple visas to enter different countries holding back the growth of the sector, Mr Al Shamisi said that the Government is aware of it. “As a first step, the UAE already issues multiple-entry visas for cruise tourists. The decision-makers involved are looking at it closely. I would say that it is not a major issue as visitors from 20 countries can enter the UAE without a visa.”

Lakshmi Durai, the executive director for the Middle East at Royal Caribbean, says the company is working closely with regional tourism boards on the issue of visas for cruise tourists. “The tourism boards have been extremely cooperative. Oman is issuing visas on arrival and we are discussing it with the UAE,” Ms Durai said.

Gaurav Sinha, the chief executive of Insignia, a branding company, said that the cruise tourism segment had grown in the past few years but that the UAE could potentially benefit from more regularly scheduled cruises in the Gulf.

“There is definitely room for growth by providing seamless accessibility to destinations, as tourists would find that very beneficial,” Mr Sinha said.

ADPC’s principal focus is Abu Dhabi. Since 2006, the port authority’s mandate has been to build and deliver the Dh26 billion Khalifa Port and Kizad (Khalifa Industrial Zone of Abu Dhabi), which was handed over on time and below budget.

Alp Eke, a senior economist at National Bank of Abu Dhabi’s economic department sums it up rather succinctly. “Kizad is by far the most significant project in Abu Dhabi,” he says.

Kizad’s main focus is to reduce reliance on hydrocarbons and increase non-oil sector contribution. It is also part of the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 strategy to grow the non-oil economy’s contribution. The industrial zone is expected to contribute 15 per cent of non-oil GDP and create about 150,000 jobs by 2030.

Khalifa Port, meanwhile, handled about 902,000 containers in 2013. Container traffic this year is expected to grow 22 per cent year on year to reach 1.1 million units, while bulk cargo traffic is set to grow 29 per cent to reach 12 million tonnes. Phase one of Khalifa Port has a capacity of 2.5 million container and 12 million tonnes of general cargo and will eventually be able to handle 15 million containers and 35 million tonnes of general cargo a year.

With most of the heavy lifting now being done at Khalifa Port, Zayed Port is focused on its anchor tenants Abu Dhabi Vegetable Oil and Grand Flour Mills, and now project cargo to support oilfield requirements. This month ADPC signed a deal with Hyundai Engineering and Construction, allocating it a dedicated plot, warehouse and a workshop for light fabrication work. “We have re-enhanced our facilities and equipment. We intend to stay here and Zayed Port will continue to serve the capital,” Mr Al Shamisi said.

He is also conscious of the shift in trade from the West to East. “We are looking at how we can tap into such a shift. Historically the UAE has been a hub for trade between Africa and Asia. Even now the UAE’s ports handle 60 per cent of the trade in the Middle East. The shift requires major hubs and Khalifa Port and Kizad offer that along with the right government policies, procedures and ease of doing business.”

In fact, ADPC is looking at investment opportunities in Africa and Asia. Guinea in West Africa is one such country. Last November, Mubadala Development and Dubai Aluminium agreed to invest US$5 billion in the country to develop a bauxite mine, alumina refinery and port. The port in the coastal city of Kamsar is likely to be operational by 2017.

The move makes sense, as it will give Emal access to raw materials for its smelter in Taweelah and is also one of Khalifa Port’s main customers. Mr Al Shamisi, however, did not divulge details of ADPC’s role in the undertaking.

On the progress at Kizad, the ADPC chief executive said that more than 80 per cent of warehouses have been leased out and they will be handed over to tenants from the end of this month or early next month. The port authority will soon be embarking on phase two of the logistics project, which includes additional warehouse clusters for foods, mixed use and metals, and these could include heavy, mid-stream and downstream industries.

Mr Al Shamisi said that Etihad Rail will make its way into Kizad and Khalifa Port in phase two of its expansion and will have its main depot here. “Khalifa Port’s master plan included a preserved corridor through the port for a railway much before Etihad Railway was conceptualised. When the rail tracks are laid it will pass through the heart of the industrial zone all the way to the port.”

Mr Al Shamisi also touched upon the revamp of ports in the Western Region. The ports in Sila, Delma, Mugharrag, Mirfa and Sir Bani Yas were being upgraded for two reasons – to support the community and provide logistics support for major infrastructure projects such as the nuclear plant and oil and gas developments in the area.

One area that Mr Al Shamisi is pleased with the ADPC’s efforts is Emiratisation. Through its training initiatives along with Abu Dhabi Terminals, UAE nationals now operate gantry cranes, automated stacking cranes. They have also been employed as harbour masters, tug masters and security supervisors. “Previously operational jobs were not attractive, but by providing the right development courses we have succeeded in winning them over.”

This year ADPC plans to recruit fresh graduates and is working with various colleges including Higher Colleges of Technology to add to its workforce and support its growth plans.

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