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.
grain carrier Banastrar discharged 52,000 tonnes of wheat.
The busy trading activity at the
port, located a few miles from the Kuwaiti border, is tangible
proof of U.S. contractor Bechtels successful $38-million
renovation project, says Bob Sinnott, Bechtel senior project
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 ports 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
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."
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."
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 dont 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."
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 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)