Unbridled determination

Building up: Kuwait has pinned its hopes on Mubarak Al Kabeer. Credit: Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co Ltd Building up: Kuwait has pinned its hopes on Mubarak Al Kabeer. Credit: Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co Ltd

Disputes seemingly can't stop the Mubarak Al Kabeer juggernaut. Richard Rowe reports

Kuwait has a vision: on completion, its mega container port Mubarak Al Kabeer will be the preferred and main entrance gateway to the Northern Gulf Region and the hinterland countries, and will be the Upper Gulf's major container port.

Work is now well advanced on the first phase of the port, located near Kuwait’s northern border with Iraq. Estimated to cost $16bn, Mubarak Al Kabeer will be one of the largest container ports in the Middle East Gulf and could rival Abu Dhabi and Dubai as a major transit hub between the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

On completion of the third and final stage, the port will boast a total of 18 container berths in operation and the capacity to handle 3.6m teu per year.

But the development has not been without issue. The port is located on the east coast of Boubyan Island, an uninhabited island with a land area of some 850 sq km situated at the mouth of the Tigris River, which flows from Iraq, through the Khor Abdulla waterway along the eastern side of Boubyan Island and into the north end of the Middle East Gulf.

The start of the first phase of the container terminal was seriously delayed by disputes with neighbouring Arab countries. Possession of Boubyan Island and the nearby smaller Warbah Island has been long disputed between Kuwait, Iraq and Iran and was a major reason for Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Ownership of these islands is considered essential for controlling navigation on the narrow Khor Abdullah waterway which links Umm Qasr and other important Iraqi commercial ports to the Middle East Gulf. In 1994, the UN Security Council passed a resolution confirming that both Boubyan Island and Warbah Island belonged to Kuwait. The dispute still continues but Kuwait remains determined to complete its new port.


Iraqi issues

Apart from Umm Qasr, Iraq does not have any deep water container terminals and has only a short coastline, some 58 km long, which faces Boubyan Island across the Khor Abdullah waterway. Here, along the Faw Peninsula, Iraq has begun the construction of a new mega-sized deep water container port which is sited directly opposite to Mubarak Al Kabeer. This new Iraqi container port is likely to be a serious rival to Mubarak Al Kabeer and the additional shipping could cause navigation problems along the busy Khor Abdullah waterway.

Work on the port has continued regardless of the spats and is on track for first phase completion in 2016. Under a second phase, work will start on the construction of six container berths followed by a further eight container berths in the third and final phase. In addition, six berths will be constructed in the second phase for handling bulk cargo, multi products and other non-containerised cargo.

A contract for the design and construction of the first phase was awarded in 2010 to South Korean contractor Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co Ltd. Four container berths with an overall length of 1,200 m will be completed in this phase together with a small boat harbour for the accommodation of pilot boats, tugs and other small craft. Road and rail bridges giving access across the Subiya Creek, which separates Boubyan Island from the Kuwaiti mainland, have been completed. On completion of the first phase, Mubarak Al-Kabeer will have the capacity to handle 1.8m teu.

Shipping access to and from the Phase 1 berths will be provided along a 260 m wide dredged link channel leading from the port basin to the existing navigation channel in the Khor Abdullah waterway. The port basin will be dredged to provide a minimum water depth of 16 m while the link channel will be dredged for a minimum depth of 14.5 m.

A rail link from the port will connect Mubarak Al Kabeer with the proposed 2,000 km long Gulf Co-operative Council railway. Planned for completion in 2020, this railway will run south from Al-Abdali, a border town on the Kuwaiti/Iraqi frontier, and through the six GCC member states comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A northern extension of the GCC railway from Al-Abdali would link Mubarak Al Kabeer with the Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish rail systems but no agreement has yet been reached on this proposal. Clearly, a northern rail extension would benefit Kuwait’s ambition to make the port a regional trade centre which could include its northern neighbours.


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