Yemen is a sovereign nation located in the Arabian Peninsula and its official capital is Sana’a. Yemen is situated in an ideal location for shipping and trade and is surrounded by the Gulf of Aden to the South and the Red Sea to the West.
The Guardafui channel that is located around the Horn of Africa is also close to Yemen. These are important sea trade routes that have been used for several millennia. Its neighbouring countries are Saudi Arabia to the North and Oman to the East. Yemen also has numerous islands around the Guardafui Channel.
Yemen has long had a tumultuous political situation that has affected its shipping industry. This has posed major challenges for the port and harbour sector that was well established in the region.
However, Yemen still continues to be a shipping hub for global logistics companies throughout the world. Several freight carrying companies such as Maersk have operations out of Yemen.
A large part of the container and cargo ships docking at Yemeni ports carry goods destined for transhipment. There are also numerous exports and imports that pass through the region.
Due to the political conflicts, ships approaching Yemen undergo compulsory checks from the navy. In addition, ships in the region have long had issues with piracy. This problem is rampant around the Horn of Africa and encompasses the Yemeni islands of Socotra. Very few passenger vessels berth at Somalia and the majority of ships in the region carry goods and cargo.
Despite the tense situation, the shipping sector continues to survive in Yemen. In this article, we will look at the top 10 major ports in Yemen that support trade and commerce.
1. Port of Aden (Main Port)
The city of Aden, located to the East of the Red Sea and Bab El Mandeb, is an ideal location for a major port in Yemen. Situated on one of the busiest waterways in the world, it sits within a crater that provides an excellent natural harbour. In fact, the port of Aden has the unique distinction of being one of the very few natural harbours in the world.
Due to its proximity to several important locations in Yemen, the port experiences significant traffic. This includes shipments bound for both Yemen as well as neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia. The Aden harbour stretches for 13 kilometres and extends inland for nearly 6 kilometres. Cargo ships have multiple docking berths located within the main stretch of the port, while incoming passenger vessels dock at the Tawahi harbour which is nearby.
The port stands out for having night time navigational abilities provided to both incoming and outgoing vessels. Repair facilities are also located nearby which provides services to cargo vessels from around the world. Lastly, the port is the largest natural deep water in the area. The port of Aden is divided into the main port and surrounding facilities such as the Ma’alla Wharf and the Aden terminals. These operate independently of each other.
2. Aden Container Terminal (ACT)
The container terminals of Aden deal primarily with any incoming container vessel traffic. There are 2 Panamax class berths which can handle ships up to 350 meters in length. The maximum permitted draft of docked vessels is 16 meters. The terminal has 4 gantry cranes with a capacity of up to 40 tons. The terminal also has an adjacent container yard with a capacity of up to 10,000 TEUs. The spreader cranes of the port can deal with TEU stacks up to 4 units high.
There are several facilities to process incoming container vessels including 8 gantry cranes, reach stackers, and trailers capable of transferring containers across the port. The terminal also has a minor passenger dock that primarily accommodates naval vessels from around the world. Most incoming passenger vessels are redirected to the Wharf and free port at Ma’alla.
3. Aden Refineries Terminal
Alongside the Aden Container Terminal (ACT) and the Port of Aden, the Refineries Terminal is another extremely busy section of the port. It was built to specifically handle the requirements of transhipment of crude oil, petroleum, and refined products. Some of the facilities that are available in the refinery’s terminal are- Atmospheric Distillation Unit, Vacuum Distillation Unit, LPG Unit, Asphalt Unit, and a Platformer Unit.
The refinery terminal is capable of carrying out basic hydro skimming of the incoming cargo. It deals with shipments such as Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), Light Gasoline, Naphtha, Kerosene, Light gas oil, heavy gas oil and Asphalt. Additionally, it can process 100% Kuwait crude oil and a combination of up to 25% Qatar crude mixed with more than 75% Kuwait crude. There are ongoing projects to expand the terminal to process heavy crude shipments.
4. Port of Al Hodeidah
Locally referred to as the Al Hudaydah Port, it is a major seaport on the Red Sea. Al Hodeidah is a large city located on the Western coast of Yemen. The port specializes in exporting coffee, cotton, and dates. The hidden industry of the surrounding regions also creates a major export market. It has been operational from the 19th century and has undergone significant expansion from the Ottoman period in which it was opened.
Al Hodeidah is located South of the Ras Isa oil terminal. It has FSOs and other offshore vessels and supply boats located nearby.
The port operates 8 berths that can handle ships of up to 200 meters in length. Tugs are provided for all vessels passing through the region. The berths can handle general cargo, bulk grain cargo, and container units.
Al Hodeidah Port is a primary port for the supply of humanitarian aid to Yemen. Due to the temporary closure of the International Airport at Aden, the major routes through which goods are brought into the country are through seaports such as the ports at Aden and Al Hodeidah.
5. Port of Saleef
The Yemeni port at Saleef is located just 50 km North of the port at Al Hodeidah. It is on the Kamaran Bay that is located to the west of Yemen. Saleef is near the Yemeni border with Saudi Arabia but is very remote. Rail and road connectivity is poor in the region, which has hampered the ports ability to properly handle incoming cargo. Unfortunately, the present political scenario has only worsened the situation at the Saleef port.
The port primarily handles container vessels, bulk cargo carriers, and general cargo vessels. These facilities are built to handle ships up to 400 meters in length and can handle multiple small vessels. The container facilities are not fully developed and functional, since general and bulk cargo is the primary goods shipped through Saleef. A salt berth is also located within the premises, which constitutes a major part of the port revenue. Its facilities are built to handle bulk rock salt deposits and prepare them for export. The major source of salt is from local salt quarries that are built near the port. Another major cargo shipped into the port is bulk grain. There are silos situated nearby to provide storage for incoming grain products.
6. Port of Al Makha
Al Makha, located on the Red Sea just off the Southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is a major seaport in Yemen. It ranks behind the largest ports at Aden and Al Hodeidah. Situated in the Taiz Governorate, it has long held significance as a Yemeni port, in part due to its coffee exports. Coffee has been a primary export from Al Makha for the past 3 centuries, and the famous Mocha coffee bean is named after this port (Makha pronounced as Mokha). Inland farms and estates supplied the coffee to the port from where it was shipped globally.
It is also situated near the capital city of Sana’a which provides it with good road and rail connectivity. It is wedged in between the Aden and Hodeidah ports which have reduced traffic in Al Makha. Lowered revenue has forced several facilities to shut down. The port only operates a single pier with limited processing equipment. For this reason, most incoming ships must have onboard derricks, cranes etc. The port is not sheltered and faces poor weather conditions. Only daylight navigation is permitted due to these reasons. Additionally, the maximum draft is fixed at 26 feet, and this only allows smaller ships to entire the port.
7. Ras Isa Oil Terminal
The primary oil terminal of Aden, Ras Isa is a major port in Yemen. It is presently owned and managed by the Yemen Hunt Oil Group based out of Texas. Additional facilities and aid are provided by the Port and Marine Affairs Corporation (PMAC) that operates under the Yemeni government. They provide pilot facilities, tugs, and oil tanker assistance.
The Ras Isa Terminal is renowned for the Marib-Ras Isa Pipeline that runs between this port and the oil fields at Marib. As Ras Isa is a deep-sea port, it is ideal for large scale oil operations on the Red Sea coastline. A floating oil supertanker is berthed off the main port complex, and measures 351 meters in length and has a capacity of 405,000 tons. Since the port has a permissible sea depth of 35 meters, large supertankers can dock and discharge their cargo without needing additional transfer equipment.
The Marib Oil Fields are also owned by the Hunt Oil Co. which has been working jointly with the port authorities at Ras Isa to supply oil to Yemen.
8. Ash Shihr Port and Oil Terminal
Ash Shihr Terminal is a small port in Yemen, on the Southern face of the Arabian Peninsula, and part of the Hadhramaut Governorate. The port primarily exports incense, fish, oil etc. that the surrounding region is famous for. The oil terminal is within the same premises as the port and is operated by the Masila Petroleum Exploration and Production Company known locally as Petro Masila.
The offshore terminal has 2 Single Point Mooring Systems (SPMs) that are jointly operated by Nexen Incorporated, which was the erstwhile Canadian Occidental Petroleum and Petro Masila. The primary source of oil for the Ash Shihr terminal is the Masila oil fields. Masila is the single largest oil field in Yemen, and supplies to several minor oil terminals as well. Ash Shihr is built to handle tankers with a capacity ranging between 80,000 DWT to 400,000 DWT.
9. Wharf of Ma’alla
The Ma’alla Wharf is located in the city of Aden and is operated as a multipurpose and container terminal. It can handle general and bulk cargo ships with several berths built in recent times. Additionally, the Ma’alla wharf has facilities to handle grain and flour shipments. In 1999, a silo and flour milling factory was set up to directly process bulk shipments.
Cargo ships are berthed at the Inner Harbour and at the main Ma’alla terminal. Bulk ships under 180 meters in length also dock at the Ma’alla terminal. 2 container terminals are also present and can handle Panamax ships. There are facilities to handle the processing of bulk cement and related goods. Wheat is another commodity that passes through the wharf, and there are direct bagging plants to prepare the product for packaging.
Ma’alla also has a ship repair yard that became operational post-2000. A portion of Ma’alla wharf has been designated as the Aden Free Worldport.
10. Port of Mukalla
The Mukalla port is one of the smallest seaports in Yemen. It is located in the Southern region of the country and close to the Omani border. It faces the Gulf of Aden and primarily handles any overflow from the surrounding major ports (such as the Aden Port). It houses a large dry dock for repair and maintenance operations. It specializes in performing repairs on small and medium vessels due to the lack of appropriate facilities at Mukalla. Due to its location, it is sheltered under most weather conditions.
The coastal harbour can handle ships up to 500 feet in length and deals with bulk cargo. However, there are no adjacent railway facilities to aid in transportation between the surrounding cities and the port. Due to the small size of the port, there are very few cranes and other heavy lifting equipment. Ships entering the port are required to have alternative loading and unloading mechanisms, such as conveyor systems, onboard cranes, and derricks. There are storage facilities to receive and distribute the incoming cargo. The Mukalla Port mainly handles imports and sees very little traffic throughout the year.
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Ajay Menon is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, with an integrated major in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture. Besides writing, he balances chess and works out tunes on his keyboard during his free time.