Oil-rich Abu Dhabi began commercial operations on Saturday at its new Khalifa Port in a multi-billion-dollar project to transfer its main container terminal from the 40-year-old port of Mina Zayed.
The new facility, built on reclaimed land five kilometres (three miles) off the coast of the Gulf emirate, received its first ship from a commercial customer, the 366-metre (1,208-foot) MSC Bari.
The first phase of the project, now complete, has cost 26.6 billion dirhams ($7.2 billion), the Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC) said in a statement released to coincide with the opening ceremony.
Khalifa Port, which is part of the Kizad industrial zone, now has a capacity of 2.5 million TEUs (containers) a year, with an additional 12 million tons of general cargo, including four million tons a year from the adjacent Emirates Aluminium (EMAL) berth which opened in late 2010.
This capacity could double to five million TEU "in three to five years," said Martijn Van De Linde, chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Terminals, which operates Khalifa Port.
The size of the island hosting the offshore part of the port is 2.7 square kilometres (1.08 square miles), equivalent to 400 football pitches.
Its total area, including onshore, is 9.1 square kilometres (3.64 square miles).
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The ultimate aim is to take the annual capacity of the port to 15 million TEU by 2030, ADPC said.
This is more than the amount handled by Dubai's nearby Jebel Ali port, the world's largest man-made harbour, which handled 13 million TEU last year.
"We have reached our capacity" at the existing Zayed Port, ADPC chief executive officer Tony Douglas told AFP.
"Our plan is to move all our existing container business starting today from Mina Zayed to Khalifa Port," he said.
ADPC's chief insisted that developing Khalifa Port is not aimed at competing with Jebel Ali Port 45 kilometres (28 miles) away, adding that it was aimed at serving Abu Dhabi's needs.
"Jebel Ali is a trans-shipment port... Mina Zayed is a destination port. It (Khalifa Port) will be exactly the same," Douglas said.
"Currently Mina Zayed is a destination port. Ninety-five percent of everything that goes into Mina Zayed stays in Abu Dhabi. When we migrate to Khalifa Port, it will be the same."
Mina Zayed handled 500,000 TEU in 2010.
Located in the city of Abu Dhabi, Mina Zayed port will continue to handle commercial cargo, but will also concentrate on developing the growing cruise liner business.