The blue economy is the winning card for coastal countries. According to the World Bank, which defines the emerging concept as “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems,” ocean-based industries will outperform “the growth of the global economy in the years ahead, doubling their contribution to GDP by 2030.”
On a global scale, the blue economy offers 350 million job opportunities. It contributes more than 30 per cent of Vietnam’s GDP, seven per cent of Singapore’s, and has created 34 million jobs in China.
In Egypt, the blue economy makes up a meagre 2.2 per cent of GDP. This is despite the fact that Egypt enjoys an important geographical location with coasts extending over 3,000 km on the Red and Mediterranean Seas and the Gulf of Aqaba and 50 marine ports with 197 terminals stretching for 37.5 km.
Even with the national and international importance of the ports of Egypt, being the primary link in the country’s global trade, they still come in the middle of the list among rivals in the fields of marine transport and customs, according to the 2019 Global Competiveness Report and a 2020 report issued by the Containerisation International magazine in cooperation with the UK Lloyds Banking Group.
Such ratings are the inevitable result of the decline in the revenues of Egypt’s seaports. This is now changing, however, with the country realising the importance of the maritime transport sector and the need to develop the field to achieve the maximum economic, commercial, and investment returns.
Development should include logistics, multimodal transport, and the transformation into smart ports to ensure the speedy completion of customs procedures in accordance with the standards of the World Customs Organisation.
It is also important to provide services with greater reliability and higher standards of quality, security, safety, financial sustainability, resource protection, environmental protection, and community participation. Besides stimulating investments, Egypt should improve its ranking in the three international indicators of global competitiveness, doing business, and the macroeconomic environment.
Egypt has already embarked on a comprehensive scheme to upgrade its sea ports, at the forefront of which is the Alexandria Port, the oldest one in Egypt and the main port through which 65 per cent of the country’s trade passes.
Chair of the Alexandria Port Authority Tarek Shahin told Al-Ahram Weekly that the port was being developed without stopping daily operations. Despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on global trade, the Alexandria Port’s revenues had increased, he said.
“Cargo increased to 60.5 million tons in 2020-21, up from 59.6 million tons in 2019, registering a high of 1.2 per cent. The first half of 2021 saw an increase of 19.6 per cent on the same period of the year before,” Shahin said.
The new Tahya Masr Multipurpose Terminal will transform the Alexandria Port into a regional and global hub for trade and logistics, said Mohamed Safwat, head of the terminal’s central administration.
Some 88 per cent of the construction work has been finalised with the deadline set for March 2022.
“The project is being implemented with a capacity of 15 million tons annually, with total berth lengths of 2.5 km and depths of up to 17.5 metres on an area of 155,000 square metres, plus an additional storage area of 560,000 square metres,” Safwat told the Weekly.
The multipurpose terminal along with other upgrades will enable the Alexandria Port to increase its capacity from 66 million tons to 100 million tons and raise storage space to a million square metres.
“Operating transit services, increasing capacity, and ending waiting lists at berths are primary incentives for investors in the field of marine transport,” he added.
Ahmed Al-Abaai, sea traffic manager at the Alexandria Port, said the port was being prepared to host giant vessels. “Berths will go up to 19 metres deep. And oher terminals will be upgraded with deeper berths,” he said.
Shahin said the development was meant to increase Egypt’s competitiveness in maritime transport and had been drafted by the Ministry of Transport in 2018 in line with Egypt’s Vision 2030 to transform the country into a global hub for energy, trade, and logistics.
Enhancing competitiveness with neighbouring ports will enable Egypt to attract more shipping lines and local and foreign investments. According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Egypt is expected to handle 20 million containers in 2022, Shahin added.
Besides the construction of deeper berths and logistics areas and upgrading loading and unloading times to decrease the waiting times of ships, the skills of customs employees are also being enhanced.
Digitisation will enable customers to finish their papers in one place, which will reduce the cost of custom clearance, Shahin said.
The multipurpose terminal will serve imports, exports, and transit goods, he added, saying that it was more suitable to host large ships and would increase the number of containers traded on an annual basis from one million to 2.5 million.
The new terminal is expected to be finished in 2024 when the larger Alexandria Port will be opened. It is being developed as part of a wider scheme to expand and upgrade the ports of Dekheila and Max, also in Alexandria.
Berth 3/85 is a terminal for loading and unloading timber. Shahin said 95 per cent of the construction work has been finalised and the project is due to be finished by the end of the year.
It is dug to a depth of up to 17 metres and a length of 433 metres, while the backyard is located on 35,000 square metres. These measurements qualify it to receive ships carrying 70,000 tons each, he added.
The multipurpose terminal was designed with a handling capacity of more than five million tons annually, and it will be managed by the Alexandria Port Authority, the Suez Canal Authority, the Holding Company for Maritime and Land Transport, and the Alexandria Container Company.
All these operate under the Egyptian Group for Multipurpose Terminals affiliated to the Ministry of Transport, Shahin explained.
The new storage areas under construction extend over 2,500 feddans north of the Max Road. At Dekheila, a new multipurpose terminal is also being established at Berth 100. There is also a clean dry bulk terminal and unclean casting plant with a depth of 15 to 20 metres. Other expansions are taking place over an area of 273 feddans, and the area will house added-value industries complemented by land, sea, and rail networks.
The plan is to connect the Alexandria, Dekheila, and Max ports and integrate them into the larger Alexandria Port, slated to become the biggest on the Mediterranean with 87 terminals extending over 24.9 km and depths of 20 metres, Shahin said.
“The developments will qualify the port to provide transit services. It will not be limited to dealing with incoming and outgoing containers, as is the case now, but will contribute to the movement of international trade and increase Egypt’s pivotal role in serving global trade,” he stated.
“Egypt is currently working to sign several agreements with European and African countries to revitalise trade through the Alexandria Port and to attract new shipping agencies,” he added.
The country is also developing port roads, bridges and railways. It is about to finish the construction of a road to connect the Port of Alexandria with the international coastal highway in Area 54 to link the international highway with the West Alexandria region.
A road connecting the Dekheila Port and the international coastal highway has already been finished. This will facilitate the movement of trucks between highways on the outskirts and the ports of Alexandria and Dekheila without navigating the city’s streets.
A new railway station is being built at the Alexandria Port and a multi-storey garage on an area of 15,000 square metres with a capacity of 4,000 cars.
Hussein Al-Gezeiri, head of the Egyptian Authority for Maritime Safety, told the Weekly that the Ministry of Transport has embarked on a scheme to upgrade all its service and investment sectors. The authority is a member of the Committee to Develop Sea Ports that is implementing the development plans in accordance with the Egypt Vision 2030.
The development is being carried out by the Maritime Research and Consulting Centre in cooperation with Hamburg Port Consulting, Al-Gezeiri said, adding that the upgrades were meant to keep pace with global development trends, help Egyptian ports increase their competitive edge, and facilitate maritime transport between East and West.
He added that the committee was drafting possible future scenarios for the growth of the blue economy in partnership with the private sector.
The main problem the Alexandria Port had been facing was a lack of space, he said. “Now, its area has been doubled in size, and the extra space is being used to increase its capacity to handle cargos and offer transit services, which will help in attracting new clients and investments.”
Increasing trade and facilitating the loading and unloading of goods will raise the profits of investors, primarily by decreasing the cost of transport. This will lead to a reduction in the prices of goods, enhancing the competitiveness of Egyptian products in foreign and local markets, Al-Gezeiri concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly