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UAE port operators seek global growth

04 November 2021

The UAE’s two largest port companies are modernising locally and investing globally to achieve long-term growth Port operators in the UAE have ramped up spending in international markets over the past year as growth opportunities emerge in the broader Middle East region and beyond.


Given the maturity of the ports infrastructure in the UAE, there is likely to be a greater pay-off from modernising and expanding facilities locally while making capital investments in markets where demand for high-quality port infrastructure outpaces supply. “Egypt is a vibrant market for port development right now and there are major opportunities in Saudi Arabia. Those are the areas of focus now,” a locally based steel supplier says. “In the UAE, the pace of port project activity has slowed, but we expect two to three projects to advance in the coming two years. ‘Abu Dhabi is in expansion mode, so we could see some work emerging from there, and there are some local DP World plans that could also progress in the coming year.”


Investment strategy


The strategies of Abu Dhabi’s AD Ports (ADP) and DP World acknowledge the opportunities presented in emerging markets in the wider region and Africa. In September, ADP signed a memorandum of understanding with General Company for Ports of Iraq (GCPI) to increase cooperation in the transportation and maritime sectors.


Set for an initial period of 12 months, under the agreement ADP will conduct feasibility studies on the management and operation of GCPI’s ports, economic zones and other infrastructure, while also exploring potential investment opportunities. Earlier in September, ADP also signed a heads of terms agreement with Aqaba Development Corporation to establish a cruise terminal at Marsa Zayed in the Jordanian port city, marking the Abu Dhabi company’s first facility in Jordan and its first cruise facility outside the UAE. Another heads of terms agreement was confirmed for ADP’s digital arm, Maqta Gateway, to implement an advanced ports community system to oversee communication between Aqaba port and terminal operators. While these developments lay the foundations for ADP to strengthen its presence in emerging markets, the operator’s moves in its home market are also aligned with its pursuit of longterm growth.


In June, Fujairah Terminals, which is part of ADJ completed a three-year expansion programme worth AEDlbn ($272m) to raise its general cargo throughput to 1.3 million tonnes. In December 2020, the operator announced the completion of Delma port’s second phase, which included the construction of a 315-metre quay wall and a protective breakwater. ADP reported revenues of AED3.4bn for the 2020 financial year, and is expected to be listed on the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange (ADX) before the end of 2021 by UAE holding company ADQ.


The operator also issued $ 1 bn in bonds listed on ADX in June. The 10-year bonds, with a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange, are rated A+ (stable) by S&P and A+ (stable) by Fitch. They were 4.5 times oversubscribed and attracted strong global interest, according to Mohamed Juma al-Shamisi, group CEO of ADP Extending reach While ADP’s investment strategy is predominantly focused on local and regional developments, Dubai-based DP World is looking further afield for expansion prospects. Work on the operator’s $407.7m fourth berth at the London Gateway logistics hub in the UK began in October. The gateway will form part of the Thames Estuary development that was granted freeport status in March, for which DP World lodged a bid in consortium with Tilbury owner, Forth Ports. In September, DP World confirmed it would conduct technical and economic studies with Russian transport operator Fesco to develop a container berth in Vladivostok as part of a recent agreement with Moscow’s Rosatom to explore the sustainable development of the Northern Sea trade route. DP World’s operations are expected to serve both Vladivostok and the Murmansk port, with the Northern Sea route to allow the operator to offer end-to-end services. Africa is also a hub for DP World investments. Its Angolan business recently expanded its tractor fleet as part of a wider modernisation programme worth about $190m for Luanda port’s multipurpose terminal (MPT).


DP World Luanda commenced operations in March after it was awarded a 20-year concession to manage and operate the MPT. In Zimbabwe, DP World Maputo began handling the first dedicated train service connecting Maputo and Harare in June. In India, the DP World-operated container terminal at Cochin launched a West African service in May. The fixed-weekly sailing service will use 13 vessels of 4,500-5,500 20-foot-equivalent-unit capacity, offering direct connectivity from West Africa to Far East ports through Cochin port.

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