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Monday, March 7th 2016 10:05 PM

Aden port: wasted asset if utilized efficiently, it would generate sustainable revenues

Amr Bazgifan

The port of the most charming and enchanting city in Yemen- Aden- is one of the oldest and most ancient ports in the country. Its importance and strategic location contributed to its fame that can be traced to many moons ago. Its name is usually associated with the spice and coffee-bean route.

A port which stood still before invaders fierce offenses trying to capture the city; Aden port is that natural port which is hugged and surrounded by Aden’s magnanimous mountains and breathtaking sea waves. The port is located on the northern coast of Aden Gulf in Aden peninsula neighboring the western side of Tawahi district. 

It is approximately 200 Km from Mocha port and around 127M from Djibouti port. It is stationed at the international shipping line that connects East and West. The port’s distinctive feature is that it is naturally protected from Mountain-high sea waves and seasonal northern-eastern wind currents as well as southern-western tides.

Its location between Mount Shamsan within 553 meters and Mount Al-mzalgkem just 374 meters adds to its trait as a safe-haven for ships; which enables it to maintain a year-long activity.

Aden port covers an estimated area of 8 nautical miles from east to west and 5 nautical miles from north to south. Currently, the port is divided into three sections: the old commercial pier, the business department, and the port main area. It serves an economic function as a commercial center for Aden and its neighboring cities in addition to its role as a station for ship refueling.

The port remote past

The old port of Aden is situated on a natural harbor in the peninsula of Crater. Crater is surrounded by water from three sides providing the harbor with utmost protection. The name “Crater” was given to the peninsula due to its volcanic nature.

If you decide to ascend to Sira Castle and get a view of the peninsula/ district from above, you would witness a town residing in a to-be-announced erupting crater.  

 The first time Aden was mentioned in history was in the testament book of Ezekiel; where it was stated as a trade- partner with the Lebanese coastal city of Tyre. Aden port was first used between the fifth and seventh century BC by the Kingdom of Osan. The kingdom early recognized the port's significance and was able to monopolize the seaborne trade through it.

Osan's rapid commercial activity which stretched reaching the African coast posed threat not only to its neighboring Kingdoms, Hadhramaut and Qataban, but also the Sheba Kingdom. The three kingdoms formed a coalition aimed at putting an end to the Al Oosanyen ambition.

The Murgab, Char Al Water Ibn Dammar Ali, who comes from Sheba Kingdom invaded the Al Oosanyen land systematically demolishing its walls, burning the city, and looting property.  

 In reality, the port's significant location on international sea routes between India and Europe made various rulers seek its control during different eras in history. In the first century AD,  Aden was known as the Arabian Eudaemon. It was well-known that Aden is located on the road of incense and was famed for incomparable incense and frankincense.

 It was a trade- transit point in the Red Sea where ships, transiting from East Asia to Africa and Europe and vice versa, stop and get supplies and fresh water. In the last few decades of the first century, Aden suffered due to changes in trade routes and lack of traffic through them.

When traveler Ibn Battuta visited the port of Aden in the 11th century, he indicated that wealthy Adenis owned some giant boats which were decked at the harbor providing them with huge profits. Marco Polo, Italian explorer, also visited the port of Aden in 1285 and talked about it as a busy one.

He stated, “This Aden is the port to which many of the ships of India come with their cargoes; and from this haven the merchants carry the goods a distance of seven days further in small vessels. At the end of those seven days they land the goods and load them on camels, and so carry them a land journey of 30 days. This brings them to the river of ALEXANDRIA, and by it they descend to the latter city. It is by this way through Aden that the Saracens of Alexandria receive all their stores of pepper and other spicery; and there is no other route equally good and convenient by which these goods could reach that place.”

Moreover, history also speaks of visits by a great Chinese fleet consisting of 300 ships and more than 3,700 people. They have come to Aden to buy precious cargo. They bought large jewels, all types of rubies and other rare stones as well as large pearls.

They also purchased several boxes of reef corals, amber, rose water, giraffes, leopards, and white ostriches. One can conclude that Aden's market at that time was a gathering station for goods and commodities coming from East Africa, Egypt and East Asia.

The port under the British Crown

Since 1839 until 1967, the port was under the British grip. Both Eastern India company and Royal Marines colonized Aden stationing in Aden and the island of Miyun (perim).They have had a military base in the island of Miyun to prevent pirate attacks on ships passing through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden going to India and East Asia.

After the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869, Aden port became one of the busiest ports crowded with vessels seeking to be replenished with food supply. In fact, it became a duty free zone where goods are exempted from customs.

Later on, in the 19th century, the port developed transnational fame hosting steam ships and supplying them with coal. Mr. Kahwaji founded a company which supplied ships with coal in Hughaif area, where he was selling 60 thousand tons of coal per year; an amount which used to constitute about 50% of the total coal sales at the time. 

Even in 1937, the city used to follow orders of British Indian settlement. However, later in the same year, the settlement was separated from India and became the British Crown Colony of Aden. Once the British lost their grip on Suez Canal port, Aden port has become the main British base in the region. The British regarded it as a warehouse and oil carrier for British Petroleum Company.

The port was affected economically after the closure of Suez Canal in 1970. In 1980, it was expanded and new berths were constructed in order to meet the demands of the changing marine commerce.

  Post the British Rule

Aden port lost its vitality after inexperienced and disoriented politicians seized its control during the Marxist era which lingered for almost 37 years in Southern Yemen.

Leaders who ruled the south at that time lacked a clear vision and concise long-term objectives to boost the economy. They merely imitated the Socialist/ Marxist recipe and implemented it without any modification.  Of course, that caused severe side effects on the fragile economy including the port.

The period of post-unity Saleh regime was not any better to the port. Neither a strategy nor a mechanism was put to efficiently operate the port. For more than three decades, Saleh marginalized and sidelined the port refusing any attempt of resource development within the county especially the south. 

He made sure that no development plans, aiming at utilizing the countries natural resources, get implemented in the country. These conditions facilitated the begging-process; begging the international community for aid.

The port is the same port. Its location never changed! It hasn't shrunk as well! It still oversees the international sea routes. Nonetheless, its importance has faded and gone with the winds. Most of the workforce has been laid off by the authorities and corrupted deals were stricken by the government. All of that have paralyzed commercial activities in the port.

Nowadays, people in Aden aspire a new era where effective and efficient strategies are implemented to restore the port's ancient position among international ports. History will never fail to mention that Aden port was the third busiest port globally after NewYork port - USA and Yorkshire port- UK 

Will there be a day when Aden port regains its importance? Are we to witness Aden port playing a vital role in international trade? These are just rhetorical questions and their answers lie within a wise leadership!


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