Shipping lines are expected to maintain robust annual growth of 15-20%, provided extra attention is paid to planning and deployment of the right mix of tonnage and routes, supported by prudent supply chain management, according to Abdulla bin Damithan, deputy director, commercial, DP World – UAE.

Addressing the Middle East Port Development Conference, Bin Damithan said current growth trends were being driven by massive demand for materials and supplies, needed to sustain the physical growth of the region and the Far East.
“Growth in the Middle and Far East, both in development projects and logistics, has fuelled the recent buoyancy in shipping lines. Meticulous planning and a strategic focus are required for port operators to provide a competitive platform for customers and ensure continued commitment,” he said.

Bin Damithan said the GDP of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a whole had grown by 75% over the past three years, making it the 16th largest economy in the world, with the region projected to have a budget surplus of US$500bn by 2010.

“This growth means Arab investors have the financial resources to continue to develop their internal economies, while also looking for opportunities to diversify their investment portfolio globally. This is having a knock-on effect on the shipping industry.”

Bin Damithan underlined the need for the development of proper infrastructure to maintain the handling capabilities of ports worldwide, if the shipping industry was to sustain its growth in line with regional development.
“If we look at the total global container port capacity in 2006 it peaked at 455.9mn 20ft equivalent units (TEU). In 2009, this global container demand is forecast to touch 490.28mn TEU, which means we need to expand significantly to cope with the demand.”

As mega-ships play an increasing role in transportation efficiencies, ports looking to expand are factoring in the need to cater to large-size vessels. Experts believe that a 200% increase in ships of over 7,500 TEU will come onto the shipping markets this year.

Bin Damithan added that DP World began a new expansion at Jebel Ali Port two years ago, in anticipation of the heightened demand. The two-phase development will add 2,500m quay length with a draft of 17m. The expansion will increase capacity from 9mn TEU to up to 14-15mn TEU.

The first phase is due to begin operations in July of 2007, while the whole project is set to be completed in 2008.