TBY talks to Capt. Cliff Brand, General Manager of the Government of Ras Al Khaimah Saqr Port Authority, on the significance of the Emirate's ports and their future growth.

In 2010 all the ports in RAK were brought under the umbrella of the Saqr Port Authority. What was the reasoning behind this?

All the ports came together under Saqr Port Authority and are collectively known as RAK Ports, but they operate under the authority of Saqr Port. This was to streamline the management and increase efficiency and profitability. Saqr Port and RAK Maritime City were already profitable but the other ports needed to be improved.

What is the importance of Saqr Port for RAK and the wider region?

The port was constructed in 1975 to serve RAK's quarries. Today, it is the biggest bulk port in the MENA region by far and throughput is about 55 million tons per year. Around 80% of that is composed of aggregate products and the remaining 20% falls into the other products category. These are being exported to various parts of the world, including the Gulf, but mainly to areas with a high level of ongoing infrastructure projects, like Kuwait, Qatar for the World Cup, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and India, amongst others. We also import products, such as coal, to serve the industries here in the northern Emirates, and all the fuel for the northern Emirates' petrol stations. Our business is predominantly the export of commodities derived primarily from the quarries here in RAK.

Do you think there should be any regulatory changes to boost RAK's maritime industry?

RAK's maritime industry already has a bright future. I do not see any need to change the regulatory procedures as everything runs smoothly. Saqr Port, RAK Maritime City, and the other ports are operating profitably but obviously we are examining various diversification options, especially in light of the downturn in oil prices.

Can you outline the Emirate's port facilities and their expansion prospects?

We have five ports. Next door to Saqr Port we have RAK Maritime City, a free zone that is predominantly a landlord port from which we lease parcels of land to major companies. Then we have Ras Al Khaimah Port as an extension of RAK Maritime City, which is for vessel repairs, warehouse storage, and part of it is a free trade zone. Al Jazeera Port is predominantly for shipyard repair, cargo, and cross key work. Then we have Al Jeer Port, which is currently dormant but we expect to be opening within the next couple of months for marine, leisure, and small cargo vessels. With Al Jeer Port, we have just embarked upon an AED300 expansion program to develop one or two deepwater berths. The output of the quarries justifies expanding the capacity and catering to much larger ships. We are also looking at revitalizing the container industry by bringing the import and export of containers back to RAK and hope that is going to come to fruition within the next 12 months. At RAK Maritime City we have made an agreement with a company to construct a large fertilizer plant. It will import the product, manufacture, and then export. We are also looking at the possibility of a refinery and a large tank farm with various partners at the moment. RAK Maritime City sits on 6 million sqm of land, and 3 million sqm of that land is surrounded by exclusive access to the quayside, which is full, and the other 3 million is earmarked for large projects, tank farms, refineries, fertilizer plants, and a power station. These are the kinds of things we are looking at for RAK Maritime City. Moving further down to Ras Al Khaimah Port, one of the visions of RAK in general is to bring more tourists to the area so we are looking at providing a cruise terminal at Ras Al Khaimah Port. Feasibility studies are ongoing in that regard. With regards to Al Jazeera Port, we are looking at various options and one of them is luxury craft boat building.

What are your prospects for the year ahead?

As far as RAK Ports is concerned, it will be another successful year and we will achieve the targets that we have set for ourselves. We predict growth this year to be 3 or 4% higher than 2015. Over the last 10 years growth at this particular port has more than doubled, but we can only grow within the current constraints. When we complete our new berths and boost capacity, growth will speed up again.