This is where the future docks: Jebel Ali Port in Dubai

The future is already visible at the newest terminal. Terminal 3 has a 1.8-kilometre long quay length, with an Eagle Eye Monitoring System consisting of hundreds of cameras recording the loading and unloading of containers. But crane operators do not work in the crane cabins – due to the hot climate. They sit a couple hundred metres away in a pleasantly air-conditioned control room on the third floor of a building at the terminal. The ­containers move across their computer screens like giant ants. DP World considers the technology has great potential. If the nearby terminal can be controlled from there, why not container throughput in a port that is thousands of kilometres away? Welcome to Jebel Ali, the largest container port in the world outside of Asia among the top ten.

Trade enabler DP World handled 15.4 million TEU in 2017 in the UAE. This means thousands of containers a day pass through entryways and exits. Jebel Ali Port, ranked ninth in the most recent global ranking of Lloyd’s List, is the flagship of DP World. Today, its ­domain includes 78 marine and inland ­terminals worldwide. Hapag-Lloyd and DP World recently launched an exciting pilot project. The close collaboration with a terminal – terminal partnering – is being tested in Jebel Ali as part of “Hapag-Lloyd Strategy 2023”.

But first, back to the past. Almost exactly 40 years ago, the first part of the port was built here, and even then included container handling. At the time, the quays were far from the centre of Dubai in the desert sand. The planners thought, “If we build a port here, people are sure to come,” and their courage was rewarded. Little by little, the port was ­expanded in the direction of the sea. Terminal 2 was added in 2007. Terminal 3 was inaugurated in 2014 and is one of the world’s largest semi-automated ­facilities in the world.

Boxes today account for the vast majority of the total throughput in Jebel Ali. Trucks transport most containers from and to the port. Gate 4, one of many in this giant harbour, resembles a big toll gate on a motorway. Dozens of lorry entrances are in rows next to each other. There are trucks at nearly every gate. The automated check-in only takes seconds, an X-ray scanner scans the load. The lorry is registered and data is confirmed about the company’s status as a harbour partner. It receives a transponder, and the driver precise information on where to go. The harbour workers there get a message so they can be ready for the lorry when it arrives. Then the clock starts ticking.  

The view below the container trains and across the quay seems to go on forever

A total of 102 cranes operate on the quays around the clock, every day of the year. Only occasionally does morning fog impair operations across the 36-square-kilometre area. The port employs over 6,000 people, some of whom live right on the property. Special areas were created for this purpose, including a shopping centre, a cricket ground and a football stadium.

And the expansion continues. A fourth terminal is built in the water of the Arabian Gulf. Of course, T4 will be ultra-modern. With the successful completion of phase 1, it has for example 13 remote-controlled quay cranes which are dual hoist tandem models able to lift a combined weight of 120 tonnes. The responsible parties are also keeping an eye on nearby Al-Maktoum airport (also called Dubai World Central Airport), which is to be developed into one of the largest in the world.

DP World is working ­towards their vision of a connected ­harbour, free trade area and new airport. When Dubai hosts Expo 2020, harbour business is expected to see a boost. So Jebel Ali lends itself perfectly as the place for an important pilot project as part of “Strategy 2023”. Hapag-Lloyd now offers a dozen services from the port, such as “heavyweights” like the FE2 with its 20,000 TEU ships between Northern Europe and Asia or much smaller feeders to the ports of the ­region. “‘Terminal partnering’ means that we, the carrier and the terminal operators, collaborate together how we can implement improvements that make port turnaround more efficient,” explains ­Mohamed Badawy, Senior ­Director ­Operations in Region Middle East (RME). The faster and more ­efficient a ship is handled, the more optimum speed can be steamed from port to port, thereby saving fuel – or the more easily it can make up a ­possible delay.  

Worker at the terminal: In total, more than 6,000 people work at the airport

The goal of the project is to remove unnecessary operation waste from the entire port call to bring the time in port as originally designed per services. Hapag-Lloyd employees have collaborated with representatives of DP World to start analysing the situation together and find improvements. Part of the collaboration involves exchanging data that was previously not shared, and looking together at every step of a ship’s call – on-site at the quay wall. Personal feedback from Hapag-Lloyd seafarers are also an important component.

It became apparent that, with AGX service for instance, similar cargo volumes were typically handled during a call, but the time in port varied vastly, with the longest stay about twice as long as the shortest. According to an initial analysis, it is possible to reduce the time in port by more than four hours per call on ­average for all services in Jebel Ali. The project began in spring, and ­initial results have already shown marked ­improvement. Mohamed Badawy ­describes it as a win-win ­situation. “Working with DP World, we want to increase the productivity of the terminal as this is in both our ­interests.” 

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