This project will transform the economy of Abu Dhabi
Tony Douglas of Abu Dhabi Ports, who was previously the managing director of Heathrow Airport where he oversaw the construction of the massive Terminal 5, said the Port Khalifa project was so large that it would transform Abu Dhabi's economy from the present annual $100 billion [£63 billion] GDP, that is 60 per cent dependent on oil and gas, to a $400 billion economy by 2030, with only 40 per cent coming from oil and gas.
The semi-automated port can handle 12 million tonnes of general cargo and 2.5 million containers a year. This ranks it alongside Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore as one of the biggest ports in the world.
By its completion in 2030, Khalifa Port will be able to handle 35 million tonnes of general cargo and 15 million container shipments. That is about 19 times the volume of Abu Dhabi's long-existing Mina Zayed Port, which was "beyond full and bursting with the strain" according to Tony Douglas.
Kizad, into which most of the cargo will pour, will become one of the world's largest industrial zones, relying on cheap foreign labour [trade unions are illegal in the UAE] and zero income tax to attract pharmaceutical companies, aluminium and steel manufacturers and other heavy industry from around the world.
Essentially, Abu Dhabi wants to be a better version of Dubai, by diversifying its industry so that it is no longer dependent on oil to survive.
It is a major part of the emirate's "Vision 2030" project to transform the economy to an entrepreneurial one.
Khalifa Port is built on an artificial island three miles offshore, with berths dredged to a depth of 18 metres .... well beyond the requirements of the world's largest ships.
The ship booked for the opening ceremony on December 12th was the massive 366 metre long, Chinese owned CSCL Uranus, capable of holding 14,000 containers.
Tony Douglas explained. "We're currently at 18 metres deep, so it would be a waste of money going any further down, because we can accommodate a ship larger than the largest American aircraft carriers, as we saw today, but we have no illusions where shipping is going. We can dredge to 21 metres when the ships get bigger...... and they will!"
The choice of a Chinese ship for the opening ceremony was deliberate. Abu Dhabi was keen to fete visiting Chinese guests and is eager to establish itself as the bridging point between the Far East, and its markets in the West.
Douglas says that the Far East now generates 60 per cent of world trade, much of it coming through big ports such as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore.
Abu Dhabi was keen to get as much of their shipping as possible. Of course, the new super-port of Port Khalifa is bound to compete with Dubai's major Jebel Ali Port, also in the UAE.
In fact, Khalifa Port has been constructed half way between Abu Dhabi City and Jebel Ali, so it is only 40 kilometres from the latter, making it easy to grab some of the trade.
Dubai recently announced that it was investing £450 million in expanding the port of Jebel Ali, so as to take 19 million containers a year.
The question arises whether there will be enough work for both ports, since the U.A.E only has a population of 7.9 million. It must also be remembered that Sheikh Khalifa of Abu Dhabi bailed out Dubai in 2009, as the property boom came to a crashing halt and property prices collapsed right across Dubai, whilst they owed huge amounts of money to several major banks.
Sheikh Khalifa has asserted much tougher control of the United Arab Emirates economy, ever since that time.
Tony Douglas points out that there is a clear, very fundamental difference between the two ports in question. "About 60 per cent of what goes through Dubai is in transit to other places in the Middle East /Arabian Gulf region, such as Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar etc, so we don't see ourselves competing on that level in the Middle East. We are feeding into the industrial area to diversify the Abu Dhabi economy into aluminium, steel, pharmaceuticals ... all sorts of areas ... whilst also being a big international hub between East and West.
Port Khalifa is to be linked direct to purpose-built, double-stacked, cargo trains. Although building is just beginning in the U.A.E's rail network, the intention is to transfer goods by rail to and from western Europe within 10 years.
It will be through a rail network built through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. Of course, they will also have to cross Syria, but they take it that Syria's internal problems will long have been resolved in intervening years.
It must be said that Abu Dhabi certainly has very ambitious plans ........ and the vast oil money to see them through!!
The people of Abu Dhabi should be grateful to Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan for displaying such vision and in investing his nation's wealth so wisely.
Abu Dhabi has abundant cheap energy to set up heavy industries, as well as being in an ideal sheltered haven half-way between the Far East and Europe.
It is certainly an exciting time in Abu Dhabi!!