|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
22 - 28 November 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Private gatewaysThe first Egyptian port to be operated solely by the private sector will open shortly. Inas Mazhar gives the project a sneak preview
Until recently, it was safe to assume that any major port in Egypt would be on the Mediterranean coast. Not for long, according to Minister of Transport Ibrahim El-Demeiri. "We had to choose strategic sites of benefit to the movement of world trade," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. "So we selected two different sites for our new ports. The first is located east of the Suez Canal, to control trade movement from the north to the south. The second is the El-Sokhna Port aimed at controlling trade from the south to the north." According to the minister, both ports are expected to become operational soon.
The El-Sokhna Port, located on the Red Sea about 40km to the south of Suez, is expected to open first. "The idea [of El- Sokhna] is to capitalise on Egypt's strategic location on the main trade routes between Europe and Asia," said El-Demeiri. "It will offer direct access to markets in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa." Existing Egyptian ports have already reached maximum capacity, according to the minister. "The shipping industry has developed greatly, hence the need for 'third-generation' ports capable of receiving giant ships."
The Sokhna Port Development Company (SPDC) is building the port under a BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer) concession, and has invested in the land infrastructure and cargo handling terminals. According to SPDC Vice-President Omar Tantawi, "El-Sokhna is designed for the long-term growth of cargo handling. The water depth in the port and its navigation channels is sufficient to allow in the largest container vessel employed on container shipping routes between Europe and the Far East. It can also handle bulk carriers with a dead-weight of up to 170,000 tons."
The port consists of four basins with a total quay length of 7.5km. The marine structures of the first basin were completed by the middle of last year, and cost the Egyptian government LE800 million. The construction of the port terminals soon followed.
As we walked along the docks, which were still eerily empty, the port's engineers showed off its capabilities to me. The water depth in the port and its approaching channel is 17metres. Its quays are designed to berth Super Post--Panamax container ships and Capesize bulk carriers, and to handle heavy--lift project cargo. The port terminals are equipped with advanced information and electronic data exchange systems, and a state- of-the-art electronic safety and security system has been installed.
El-Sokhna Port comes as part and parcel of a larger development plan for the Red Sea. "A Special Economic Zone of about 9,000 hectares, the Suez Special Economic Zone (SSEZ), is the largest and most important development project undertaken by the Egyptian Government in recent years," according to an enthusiastic El- Demeiri. The minister was keen to point out that the president himself is a strong supporter of the project and is expected to pay El-Sokhna a visit soon.
SSEZ is being developed by an Egyptian--foreign joint venture company. The basic infrastructure (roads and rail connections, power and water supplies) is being provided by the Egyptian government. The zone already has a fertilizer factory and a steel factory up and running. Future plans include a paper-mill and a bus assembly plant.
The days when ports were simply places for cargo to be transferred from ship to shore (and back) are over, according to Osama El-Sharif, SPDC's chairman and general director. El- Sharif, who hails from Jordan, told the Weekly that "ports have developed into logistical and trade centres offering all kinds of cargo services." In the future, he said, "transport of half- finished and finished products will increase, and ports will become physical, administrative and management centres."
The story of El-Sokhna's construction began in April 1999, when the government of Egypt and SPDC signed a BOT contract for the development of the super-structure and SPDC was licensed to operate the port for 25 years. According to that contract, SPDC will design, construct, manage and operate the port on a commercial basis and provide cargo handling services to customers in the Economic Zone.
The minister of transport explained that the government "needed to give the project to the liners which control the marine world today. We chose from the best of them. We established the infrastructure and they will develop it further over a period of time. We will undoubtedly gain and learn from the modern technology they will apply and from their speed and flexibility in running the business. We hope El-Sokhna will open the way to job and training opportunities in the area." (see related article).
SPDC seems to be keeping up its side of the bargain. Al- Sharif waxed lyrical on the port's future growth. "It is the goal of the SPDC management to develop the port and surrounding area into a trade centre both for import and export goods, providing facilities and services for freight and trade fairs, congress centres, exhibition halls, cargo warehouses, hotels, restaurants, banks, excellent information and communications systems and logistical and distribution services. These should service the companies now establishing in the Suez Industrial Zone, as well as the port users," he said. He added that the new port's future is bright. "Our intention is to make El-Sokhna a strategic location for the shipping world and for international firms. It is not a plan for one year, but a plan for between 20 and 50 years."
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