Saudi Arabia mulls new port for food imports

Of Saudi Arabia's container traffic Jeddah Islamic Port accounts for. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia is considering building a new port in the Red Sea city of Jeddah to handle rising imports such as wheat and barley under a food security plan, an official said yesterday.

Food security has topped the policy agenda in the Gulf following rampant inflation in 2008 that underscored the regions's dependence on imports and forced countries to invest abroad to ensure supplies of staples such as rice and wheat.

Top Opec oil exporter Saudi Arabia has emerged as global buyer of wheat and is also trying with the help of private Saudi investors to secure farmland in Africa and elsewhere abroad to import more food.

"The new port is still under study and we are looking at various locations for a port to support Jeddah's Islamic port in food security imports," Khalid Bubshait, head of the Saudi Ports Authority, said in an interview.

Jeddah Islamic Port (JIC) is the largest in the kingdom with a capacity of 3.2 million TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units), representing 73 per cent of the country's container traffic.

The port is expected to nearly double its capacity to six million TEUs by 2011 as it is undergoing expansion of its three terminals.

JIC has faced some congestion in 2008 and 2009, resulting in hefty charges for many delayed ships as well as the diversion of some shipping lines to other ports.

"This new port will deal with non-container imports like wheat and barley imports," Bubshait said, declining to give a cost estimate for the port. "The idea of this port is still under study and no decision has been taken yet. We haven't decided on the size or number of docks yet," he added.

 

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