Modern Port Facilities and Shipping Line Enhance Trade

Cranes at King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam are used to load and unload cargo from vessels around the world.
Saudi Arabia's spectacular socioeconomic growth over the past three decades has brought about great advances in social services, education, health care, industry, agriculture, commerce and in many other areas. With advances in each of these fields have come unique challenges and needs, which the Kingdom has successfully addressed.

The development of a modern infrastructure in the 1970s triggered a rapid growth in the Kingdom's overall economy, with both imports and exports almost doubling every year. To handle the high volume of goods required to sustain the national economy, which in turn was generating more and more products for export abroad, Saudi Arabia in 1976 established the Ports Authority to plan and implement a program to build a modern network of ports. Over the next two decades, the organization expanded existing ports and built modern ship-handling facilities at new ones at a total estimated cost of more than 40 billion Saudi riyals (10.6 billion U.S. dollars). As a result, the number of berths at Saudi ports rose from 37 to 182 and their overall cargo-handling capacity increased by more than ten-fold up to 251.7 million tons annually. These projects will accommodate future growth in exports and imports.

The Ports Authority's plan for developing a modern network of ports in the country began with the expansion of Saudi Arabia's two largest existing ports, Jeddah on the Red Sea and Dammam on the Arabian Gulf.


Saudi Arabia has built a number of modern ports to handle imports and exports along both the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. The port at Jubail Industrial City (above and below), the third largest in the Kingdom, handles mainly industrial goods.


The Jeddah Islamic Port, Saudi Arabia's largest outlet to the world, underwent massive expansion and modernization, carried out in phases over the past two decades. Two new terminals and 40 berths were built to handle cargo vessels of all types. Modern cranes, storage areas, traffic control centers, fire-fighting equipment and a range of support facilities and services have been established at the port to handle vessels around the clock. It is now equipped to handle all types of ships, carrying bulk cargo, containers, roll-on-roll-off cargo and livestock. The volume of cargo handled by the port has increased from 1.9 million tons two decades ago to 18.9 million tons in 1994.

The port is also the main point- of-entry for pilgrims to Islam's two holiest sites, in Makkah and Madinah. Last year, close to one million people passed through the port's passenger terminals.

The King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam underwent a similar expansion project. A two-mile jetty extending into the Arabian Gulf was built to handle large vessels, while a separate one-mile jetty was constructed for smaller ships and a third was established for fishing boats. Originally built as a small port to handle imported equipment for the Saudi oil industry, it is now a multipurpose facility that handles all kinds of cargo, including industrial products and consumer goods. The volume of cargo passing through the port has grown steadily, from 1.5 million tons two decades ago to 8.9 million tons in 1994. These figures are for cargo only and do not include Saudi Arabia's vast crude oil exports.

The next two largest ports in the Kingdom were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They are located in the twin industrial cities of Jubail on the Gulf and Yanbu on the Red Sea. Each of these cities has a separate industrial port, handling imports to feed the large number of plants and factories built at the sites and for exporting their products to distant ports, as well as a commercial port for bulk, containerized and general cargo bound for other cities in the Kingdom. Each of these ports is equipped with the latest equipment and services for the rapid handling of vessels and cargo. Over the past decade, the total volume of goods handled annually by Jubail has increased from 4.4 million tons to 29.7 million tons, while the volume of cargo passing through Yanbu has grown from 14.8 million tons to 28.9 million tons.

Saudi Arabia has also established a number of smaller modern ports along its Gulf and Red Sea coasts, including Al-Khobar, Jizan and Duba, to complement its main ports and serve their immediate areas.


In addition to facilities to handle cargo, Saudi ports are also equipped with shipyards and repair docks to help repair and maintain Saudi and international vessels.

In the early stages of the massive effort to build a network of modern ports, Saudi Arabia also moved to establish a company to serve the country's growing shipping needs. In 1979, a consortium consisting of the Saudi Government and individual shareholders formed the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (NSCSA). One of the many examples of successful cooperation between the public and private sectors, the majority of the company's 20 million shares are held by private investors.

In its 17 years of existence, NSCSA has grown from a small shipping company into one that is now a major international presence, with a sizable fleet of vessels and sophisticated cargo-handling operations directed out of offices in 15 cities worldwide.

Like most Saudi ventures, NSCSA's growth was well-planned and methodical. By 1981, it had commissioned two 27,724-ton ships, the Saudi Makkah and Saudi Riyadh, to transport freight from the Saudi ports of Jeddah on the Red Sea and Dammam in the Arabian Gulf to ports in the United States and Canada.


Most of the vessels of the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia are of the roll-on-roll-off type.

By 1986, the company had increased its fleet size by adding four state-of-the-art 42,600-ton Abha-class vessels to its freight service, and was carrying cargo to ports in the Mediterranean, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. All these vessels are roll-on-roll-off, known in the shipping industry as ro-ros. Forty-foot ramps allow cargo to be driven directly into the vessels by onboard trailers and placed in position by forklifts on the various decks in the hull. This not only allows for rapid loading and unloading of cargo but also reduces the possibility of damage due to the use of heavy cranes and exposure to the elements. Standard containerized cargo, however, is loaded by cranes directly onto the top deck. The addition of two 38,036-ton Qassim-class vessels has brought the number of ships in NSCSA's fleet to eight.

The NSCSA now offers a weekly service from U.S. and Canadian ports, including Houston, New Orleans, Savannah, Wilmington, Norfolk, Baltimore, New York, Halifax and St. John, to Dammam, Dubai and Kuwait in the Arabian Gulf and Jeddah in the Red Sea. From there, cargo can be trans-shipped through the company's services to ports in the Far East, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Pusan in South Korea and Taiwan.

While continuing its efforts to remain a successful freight shipper, NSCSA has also been expanding in new directions. In 1985, the company introduced a service to carry to European ports petrochemical products from the plants of the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) in Jubail. The following year, it entered into an agreement with the United Arab Shipping Company to operate another vessel to carry petrochemicals on the same line.


The most modern cargo ships afloat, the company fleet handles all types of cargo, including vehicles stored below deck.

At the same time, NSCSA formed a subsidiary, the National Chemical Carriers (NCC) to focus on shipping petrochemicals produced by SABIC and other petrochemical companies to distant markets, including the U.S., Europe and the Far East. The new subsidiary has proved to be an extremely profitable venture, and has grown steadily over the years. Today, it has 15 chemical tankers with a combined fleet capacity of more than 400,000 tons, with another vessel scheduled to be delivered later this year. NCC vessels presently serve more than 150 ports around the globe.

In 1994, the company established a new crude-oil tanker division to handle the administrative, technical and operational strategies of this new venture. That same year, NSCSA signed a contract for the construction of five 300,000-ton very large crude carriers (VLCCs). All are doubled-hulled to reduce the possibility of an oil spill and are scheduled for delivery by February of 1997.

Saudi Arabia's modern network of ports and vessels are symbols of the Kingdom's growing presence in the global economy.


The various types of vessels operated by NSCSA, including the Yanbu Pride, fly the Saudi flag to ports on three continents.


Last Story Table of Contents Next Story