Then and now: Aden & its port [Archives:2002/41/Business & Economy]

October 7 2002

After years of economic depression, Yemen’s southern port city of Aden is reviving thanks to the establishment of the Aden container port and free zone.
To know more about the history of this great port which was once of the most famous ports in the world, Mr. Radwan Assaqaf, Aden bureau chief, met with the marketing director of the Yemen Port Authority, Mr. Adbulrab Al Khulaqi. Here’s an edited version of their conversation.
Q:Could you give us a historical background on the port of Aden?
A:Aden has a deep-rooted trade history. It was announced as a free port and the sole port for exporting coffee in Yemen in 1850.
The inauguration of Suez Canal in 1869 led to the revival of Aden as a meeting point between East and West.
In 1855 an armlet was established in Mua’ala, As a result, the customs center was moved there in 1864 and coal exports increased in Aden.
In 1870, a telegraph station was established in Aden which facilitated communication between West and East. Thus, there was a trade boom in Aden from 1885 to 1910. Other neighboring ports became secondary ports.
When coal was replaced by steam, ship traffic doubled and the demand for expanding the port for bigger vessels increased. Port expansion was initiated in 1891.
In 1931, Aden had four quays, and it received about 150 vessels monthly. But the best trade business of the port began in 1950, when it was receiving around 40-50 vessels daily.
In 1955, Aden refinery and oil port was established to meet the vessels need of fuel and in 1960, another three quays were built to provide vessels with fuel while calling at the port. In the sixties, Aden was of the most active ports in the world due to its strategic location and unique services.
However, the port declined after Yemen’s independence, not only in the number of vessels, but also in the services offered. The decline was ascribed to the closure of Suez Canal, the Gulf War, Yemen’s civil war, and other political disputes.
At unification, however, Aden was named a free zone and then it was re-established as a container port in 1997. Aden could resume its place in both regional and international levels. Container port capacity reached 57,000 containers.
Q:What are unique features of Aden port?
A: Aden port is located at the juncture of the Red Sea and Aden Gulf, So it is on an international trade line which connects the Far East and America. Ships need only four nautical miles to reach the guiding station, the surrounding water of the port is clean of coral reefs, which helps set marine marks, and it has moderate climate, which enables the port to work 365 days annually.
Moreover, the port of Aden is of deep water, protected by series of 500-meter high mountains from east and south, which save it from seasonal winds in winter. It’s also surrounded by mountains of 350 meters from the south and west, which protects it from summer winds. The strategic location of the port qualifies it for providing transit services for good across east Africa, red sea, Indian subcontinent and Arab gulf.
Q: What is the future of the port, and what about challenges?
A:Future plans focus on restructuring the YPA, computerization, improving services by bringing up-to-date equipment, improving staff through special courses, and offering help to the private sector to build-up specialized anchorages.
The key problems we are now facing include a lack of financial support to carry out needed programs and projects, difficulty of coordinating workers, and a shortage in well-qualified workers.