Beyond the Sea

Port Expansion

As Dubai's ports continue to see growth in cargo volume and passenger numbers, major expansion plans to upgrade capacity are set to reinforce the Emirate's position as a leading maritime hub.

Historically known as the “city of merchants,” Dubai is an emirate defined by the importance of sea ports, ever since its foundation in 1833. With Dubai Creek as a natural harbor, the Emirate quickly became a center for fishing, pearling, and sea trade, and by the beginning of the 20th century, its souk was the largest on the coast and a major center for regional trade. The mid-20th century saw the dredging of Dubai Creek to accommodate larger vessels in the 1950s, followed by the establishment of Dubai’s major ports, Port Rashid and Jebel Ali Port, which cemented Dubai’s role as a major international port and re-export hub. Dubai is now the ninth-busiest container port in the world by volume, handling 13 million TEUs in 2011, an increase of 12% year-on-year. The Emirate ranks number one in the region, according to UNCTAD’s Liner Connectivity Index. Now, global port operator DP World, which operates all of Dubai’s ports, has plans to continue expanding facilities to ensure that the Emirate maintains its world-class standing.


Jebel Ali Port was established in 1985 as part of the Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza), and is located approximately 35 kilometers southwest of Dubai city. As DP World’s flagship port and Dubai’s main area of maritime activity, it is the largest container handling zone between Rotterdam and Singapore, and it encompasses the biggest man-made harbor in the world. Despite the port’s vast size, the growth of Dubai’s shipping and re-export sector in recent years has meant that Jebel Ali is nearing capacity. Therefore, DP World has significant expansion plans for the port, with the eventual goal of increasing capacity to 19 million TEUs by 2014. In the first phase of expansion, which will be concluded before the end of 2012, Terminal 2 will be extended by 400 meters, allowing the port to handle up to six vessels of 15,000 TEUs at one time and creating an additional 1 million TEUs of capacity. A second and much larger phase will involve an investment of $850 million, aiming to build a third container terminal that will add an additional 4 million TEUs and bring total capacity to 19 million TEUs.


Port Rashid, originally Dubai’s main containerized cargo port, was converted by DP World to become Dubai’s cruise terminal and is now the largest home port for cruise ships in the GCC. The port also handles ro-ro cargo to supplement Jebel Ali, as Port Rashid is closer to the center of Dubai. The port has seen significant passenger growth since its conversion, increasing from 100 ships with a total of 260,000 passengers in 2009 to 135 cruise vessel calls and a total of 375,000 passengers in 2011. In January 2012, the port saw four mega cruise vessels visit the terminal simultaneously for the first time. DP World now has plans to expand the existing terminal facilities to serve up to five ships at once, and longer-term plans for further expansion to accommodate seven ships. The company also announced that Port Rashid will become the permanent home of the QE2, which will be converted into a luxury hotel with an attached maritime museum.


Port Al Hamriya, built in 1975 to reduce the strain of increased ship traffic on Dubai Creek, is one of Dubai’s smaller ports, and serves both non-containerized cargo shipments and the local fishing industry. Al Hamriya is one of Dubai’s more traditional ports, and still has facilities to serve dhows, the traditional wooden sailing vessels that have been used in the Gulf and the Arabian Sea for generations. In 2011, DP World began upgrading the port, and in June 2012, it unveiled the first phase of expansion, which involved modernizing the port’s general cargo facility used for regional trade. The second phase, currently underway, focuses on modernizing the marina for fishing boats and developing improved facilities for dhows. These expansions contribute to the growth in Dubai’s maritime activity and demonstrate the breadth of available services for vessels of all shapes and sizes.