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reconstruction in iraq

After $38-million Overhaul, Iraqi Port of Umm Qasr Is Back in Business
Norwegian grain carrier Banastrar discharged 52,000 tonnes of wheat.
UMM QASR--Business is picking up again at Umm Qasr, Iraq's primary portal to the Persian Gulf. At the refurbished docks, traditional Arabian wooden sailing vessels called dhows and modern steel-hulled freighters as well deliver cars, cigarettes, even sheep, side by side. A few meters away, a Norwegian-flagged grain carrier unloads the first wheat cargo since the war stopped deliveries early this year.

The busy trading activity at the port, located a few miles from the Kuwaiti border, is tangible proof of U.S. contractor Bechtel’s successful $38-million renovation project, says Bob Sinnott, Bechtel senior project manager.

When the Bechtel team arrived in Umm Qasr in late April, it set out to determine what was needed to get the port fully operational again. "The first thing we had to do was dredge the harbor," Sinnott says along the port’s berths.

San Francisco-based Bechtel sub-contracted the project to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., Chicago. The $16-million dredging project started on May 8 (ENR 5/5, p. 16) and finished Sept. 4, according to Sinnott.


After dredging, the depth of the harbor is 12.5 meters at low tide, with a tidal swing of around 4.5 meters. Sinnott explains that the initial dredging operation ran to berth 10 then continued to berth 21. There are 21 berths at the port. The old port has nine and the new port 12.

In four months, roughly 600,000 cubic meters of silt was removed by a dredger brought over from the United States to open the 5-km-long harbor to shipping, according to figures from the United States Agency for International Development.

Sinnott says another $10 million went to wreck recovery, a project carried out by Titan Maritime LLC. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based salvage specialists. Areas of the port are still littered with huge chunks of wreckage retrieved from the depths in recent months.

There was also post-war sabotage to counter. "We had a lot of sabotage and looting which made the port completely inoperable," Sinnott says. "We have done basic repairs to put the port system back in operation."

Trucks take on grain for delivery under World Food Program.

Underscoring the efforts to get the port operational, the Norwegian vessel Banastrar started unloading 52,000 metric tons of wheat through a renovated system of vacuums that moves the grain along conveyor belts to 48 grain silos located slightly offshore.

The ship started delivery on October 21 and was scheduled to finish discharging by November 12, the Norwegian captain, Odvvar Eriksen, says in the dining hall of the ship. The grain, sent by the World Food Program, will be trucked to various parts of the country to feed a population that still largely relies on UN food rationing.

Iraq currently needs to import as much as 580,000 tons of food a month to feed its population, according to a U.S. AID spokesman.

Bechtel allocated $3 million to make sure the grain discharged without a hitch and sub-contracted to the Iraqi company al-Abadi. "Al-Abadi provided the manpower and supervised the manpower," Sinnott says. "They have been working hand in hand with Bechtel."

To move grain from the berth to the silos, with a storage capacity of 60,000 metric tons, new electrical parts were needed. "We had to buy relays to run the conveyor belts and interlocks," Sinnott says. "The electrical system is now in very good shape."

After six months' work, trade is beginning to rebound.

He explains that the unloading capacity at the grain terminal is now running at about "a quarter" of full capacity. "The silos and discharge facilities are at 100% capacity," Sinnott adds.

Outside of the grain silo, the old and new ports at Umm Qasr are also near full capacity. "Of the 21 total berths, 15 are currently operational," says Capt. John Gaughan, principal maritime advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation.

Gaughan also says there are two working cranes at the port, which can off load about eight box lifts an hour. "This is as good as or better than before the war," he says. "This compares to 20 box lifts a day in other ports in the region."

There are few glitches to work out, however. The port is still run by installed generators. "The port is still not hooked up to the national grid," Gaughan says. "The substation on the outskirts of the port is not functioning. It was disabled by looting."

The port is also needs new equipment. "We could use new tug boats, pilot boats and dredges," Gaughan says. "We don’t have enough tug boats."

There is also the issue of how to pay for the future maintenance of the port. To generate revenue, the Iraqi Port Authority along with Bechtel plans to implement a new tariff system for the port, "which is competitive globally," Gaughan says. "The tariffs are higher than most in the region in the region for two reasons."

Conveyors move grain from ship's holds to silos.

He points to the government subsidization of port operations throughout the Middle East and the need to use revenue from tariffs to pay for the maintenance of the port.

The Banastrar, for example, had to pay about $75,000 in port fees. "The waterway has to be dredged annually, which is expensive, so users are made to pay this cost," Gaughan says.

There is also the problem of collecting tariffs. Currently, customs inspections are handled by six officers brought in from Dubai, though Gaughan say Iraqi citizens should soon take over.

Meanwhile, to make sure the Umm Qasr project ran smoothly, U.S. AID turned to the US Army Corps of Engineers. Six Corps engineers are onsite as troubleshooters. "U.S. AID got the bang for the buck," a corps engineer on the standing on the deck of the Banastrar says.

(Photos by Glen C. Carey)

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