Qatar ports feel strain of political boycott

08 Jun 2017
Neil Davidson

Neil Davidson: "The only alternatives are either to run direct mainline services that only call at Qatar or to operate feeder vessels from hub ports in countries that are not part of the boycott"

Container trade in Qatar faces a substantial fallout from continued economic blockades imposed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other Gulf Arab states, port experts have said.

Neil Davidson, senior analyst, ports & terminals at Drewry, told Port Strategy that because most of Qatar’s port traffic runs through the boycotting countries, there aren’t many viable alternatives for maritime trade routes and substitutions may take time to put in place.

Mr Davidson said: “As far as containerised trade is concerned, the majority of Qatar's traffic moves either overland from Saudi ports or by feeder vessel from Gulf hubs, especially Jebel Ali. There are a couple of direct mainline container ship services to Qatar as well, but they also call at other ports (in the boycotting countries) and so are unlikely to be able to continue to serve Qatar as well.

“The only alternatives are either to run direct mainline services that only call at Qatar (unlikely to be viable) or to operate feeder vessels from hub ports in countries that are not part of the boycott. Ports in Oman seem the most likely to be examined for this possibility, as the likes of Sohar and Salalah have good facilities and an established role in the container trades in the region.

“Geographically, Sohar is the closer option and so will likely be preferred over Salalah. Using Iranian ports (Bandar Abbas in particular) is another possibility, as is Kuwaiti ones, although geographically Kuwait is a big diversion. Either way, dedicated feeder services would have to be set up to and from Qatar which may take time to effect.”

Mr Davidson stated that in terms of the wider impact of the boycott, Jebel Ali Port, located on the southern outskirts of Dubai, UAE and operated by DP World, is “likely to be most affected by the boycott, as it is the main hub for Qatar". However, he added, “Qatari cargo is a small proportion of Jebel Ali's activity.”

Dean Davison, a general manager at Inchcape Shipping Services, commented: “The liner industry – shippers and cargo owners, ports and shipping lines – need certainty and this incident is creating uncertainty. It means reshuffling of port calls, cargoes building-up, even down to difficulty in the movement of ships’ crews. For ports it means expected inbound cargo not arriving and planned outbound cargo not being shipped, so disruption and congestion – and the longer the situation continues, the worse things could potentially become.

“Hopefully it will be a short-term issue, but only once a political solution is found will shipping, ports and cargo owners be able to resolve (growing) disruption to services.”

Countries currently involved in the dispute over Qatar’s perceived support for Islamist groups include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which have said they intend to cut air and sea traffic to the peninsular country.

Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah recently visited Qatar to discuss how to “restore normal relations” in the region with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Turkey and Iran have also offered to assist Qatar in its economic operational activities.

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