Port of Call

While its six fellow Emirates border the Gulf of Arabia, Fujairah is a prominent stop on the shores of the Gulf of Oman, dominated by dramatic mountains that represent 75% […]

While its six fellow Emirates border the Gulf of Arabia, Fujairah is a prominent stop on the shores of the Gulf of Oman, dominated by dramatic mountains that represent 75% of its territory. These realities have not only served the development of the Emirate as a maritime hub, but also allowed Fujairah to maintain a unique heritage that has served as the bedrock for a thriving tourism industry in recent years.

The Emirate is headed by Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, the Ruler of the Emirate of Fujairah and a Member of the Supreme Council. He has overseen the growth of the Emirate since he succeeded his father in 1974, helping to transform it into a thriving commercial node of 215,000 people, a figure that has increased from 100,000 since the mid 1990s. Of the total figure, 130,000 are expatriates.
Arguably the catalyst for much of Fujairah’s growth has been the Port of Fujairah. Full operations at the port began in 1983, and since then it has become an important stop for container liners and some of the world’s largest livestock shipping firms, which maintain holding stations for sheep and cattle for the entire Arabian Peninsula. But in a region famous for the fierce competition between ports, Fujairah’s government has been keen to stay ahead of the game. In late 2016, the port authorities launched the UAE’s first very large crude carrier (VLCC) jetty on the Indian Ocean, a AED650-million investment that, according to Khaleej Times reporting, the Emirate hopes will boost its influence as an oil-trading hub—the port is already the world’s second-largest bunkering hub. The VLCC berth can load or discharge up to 2 million barrels a day and is able to welcome tankers up to 344m long. And it is projects like this that highlight the significance of Fujairah’s position on the Gulf of Oman; the VLCC berth is now located at the center of a key global energy trade route that stretches from Beijing to Lagos. The completion of the project and related infrastructure means that Fujairah can now hold more oil than the UK uses on a daily basis, according to CNN reporting, and is hooked up to Abu Dhabi’s onshore oilfields by a pipeline that was completed in 2012. Going forward, the authorities in Fujairah hope to develop even more capacity and eventually rival Singapore.
Not to put all of its eggs in one basket, however, industry insiders are vocal about the need to target other niches. One such voice is Capt. George Pratsinis, General Manager of Fujairah Marine Services, who told TBY, “Shipping is still the cheapest way to transport commodities from one place to another. Dubai Port receives a large volume of container traffic at the moment and continues to grow in that segment. By comparison, Fujairah Port is not so big when it comes to dry cargo, but that does not necessarily mean that we must build capacity for that. There are a lot of vessels calling in the area with both wet and dry cargoes, so we can serve a segment of that.“
But away from the dirty business of oil and cargo, Fujairah’s shores are becoming popular with a new cash cow: tourists. The Emirate drew in over 1 million tourists in 2015, and is quickly working to develop more extensive tourism infrastructure, including hotels and shopping malls—Fujairah City Centre, Fujairah Mall, Lulu Mall, and Century Mall to name a few. Among the top tourist draws are Fujairah’s historic fortresses, unspoiled beaches, and favorable climate. And while the majority of its tourists are from elsewhere in the UAE and across the GCC, the Emirate’s top tourism authorities are keen to continue promoting Fujairah as a unique destination that stands out among the other Emirates. “We think differently and take a different approach here to the one in Sharjah or any of the other Emirates. This creates a good mixture that combines the different attractions and approaches to tourism and culture,“ said Hamdan Kram Al Kaabi, Director General of the Fujairah Culture & Media Authority, in conversation with TBY. Among key initiatives is the Fujairah International Arts Festival, the second edition of which is set to be held in 2018. “We have a variety of programs with the aim that the festival will be attractive to all nationalities and expect the participation to grow as a result,“ added Al Kaabi, also pointing to “Fujairah Day,“ an event held in Paris in 2015 and set to be repeated at other locations, including in London in 2018, as another effort to further the “exchange of culture and heritage with other nationalities.“
Helping the Emirate cope with its growing popularity as a destination, as well as a growing commerical hub, is Fujairah International Airport. With a capacity of 2 million passengers a year, the airport features strongly in the Fujairah Master Plan, which in turn has a strong focus on tourism. Charles Hajdu, General Manager of Fujairah International Airport, told TBY that, “Currently, we are mostly doing cargo, which is not enough to sustain the number of employees we have, and we are pushing hard on the passenger side to organize scheduled services to a regional hub, scheduled services to and from India, and a tourist holiday charter market.“
But while Emirates including Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah have opted to focus on low-cost carriers, Fujairah has other ideas. “We would rather have operators and airlines that are successful and making a margin, where there is also room for us to make a margin too. If low-cost operators want to come here we would be interested, but I would rather have a business model operating at a higher margin level,“ Hajdu told TBY. Fujairah is not abandoning the cargo side of its business, however, and, in this area, has carved itself a niche. With flights taking off to places that other Emirates do not service, Fujairah has made a name for itself, especially in the business of “resupplying troops and deploying equipment during times of conflict and humanitarian emergencies,“ Hajdu was proud to tell TBY, also elaborating how aircraft use the hub for technical stops and fly on to remoter parts of Africa. The Emirate is also home to the Fujairah Aviation Academy (FUJAA), students of which can enjoy training placements with the likes of Air Arabia and Etihad.
Any look at the Emirates is not complete without a mention of what has driven much of its growth over the decades: free zones. And in this area, Fujairah does not disappoint. Adjacent to the Port of Fujairah, the Fujairah Free Zone (FFZ), established two decades ago, offers companies more direct access to the Red Sea, Iran, India, Pakistan, and more, while mainline services arrive regularly from Europe, the Far East, and North America. While focused mainly on business related to the oil bunkering terminal, in recent years extra effort has been made to grow the number of food and metals companies operating in the zone. According to Gulf News reporting, the FFZ contributes between 70 and 75% of annual government revenue.
Fujairah has much to set it apart from the rest of the UAE, but like the other six Emirates, is keenly tied to the fortunes of the greater entity and looked upon as adding crucial added value thanks to its location, geography, and cultural significance.