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The digital transformation in Middle East shipping

The Middle East and its distribution network provides wide-ranging opportunities for the latest digital technologies in logistics and intermodal transport, writes Paul Bartlett of PB Marine Consulting.

Read time: 5 - 7 minutes

Countries across the GCC are estimated to have a population totalling about 65 million. The age profile is low, with rapid advances in living standards and a significant number of young, aspirational and relatively prosperous.

The region is heavily import-oriented, a key factor underpinning the rapid development of many new ports and terminals, constant expansion at existing ones, and rising import volumes, particularly from Asia and constant expansion at existing ones.

Complex cargo logistics for a wide range of consumables, industrial components and energy-related equipment have generated major opportunities for multimodal transport firms and the facilities they require, including free trade zones. Recently, these companies have pioneered digital technologies to raise efficiency across their supply chains. 

The Middle East and its distribution network provides wide-ranging opportunities for the latest digital technologies in logistics and intermodal transport, with legacy systems including customs operation and cargo inspection undergoing a transformation in terms of speed and efficiency. In some countries, the digital transformation is well advanced – the Dubai Emirate, for example, has developed sophisticated and relatively efficient logistics networks. 

Some port operations are already highly automated. Global ports group DP World, for example, has taken a pioneering position in the adoption of automation, robotics, big data, virtual reality, the internet of things and cybersecurity across a range of recent projects. It has recently collaborated with autonomous vehicle and artificial intelligence specialist, DG World, to introduce autonomous internal terminal vehicles at the port of Jebel Ali, one of the world’s largest container ports. The initiative aims to continue the port company’s digitalisation drive, improve supply chains, and raise trade efficiency. 

Jebel Ali is capable of accommodating and processing the largest container ships in the world. Its systems have been developed to handle ships like the 24,000 TEU HMM Gdansk, which called there on her maiden voyage, as they discharge thousands of containers in a matter of hours. One of these ships is a major challenge, but Jebel Ali has built up the physical and digital infrastructure to accommodate up to ten ultra large container ships simultaneously.

It has the largest container capacity in the region, but most other ports – from Salalah and Sohar in Oman to ports and terminals across the Gulf and to Jeddah and Gizan on Saudi Arabia’s west coast – are embracing digital supply chain technologies. These are essential to meet challenging KPIs, efficiency targets, and ship operators’ rising expectations.  

Underpinning all of these developments are robust satellite communications. These are transforming the lives of millions who live in less well-connected parts of the region. Thuraya is the mobile satellite services subsidiary of Yahsat, the UAE’s satcoms company and a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company. The communications company provides a platform for a range of sectors – energy, aerospace, government, humanitarian – but has a sharp focus on maritime, enabling ship operators to adopt today’s digital systems.

Content originally provided by Paul Bartlett for Seatrade, who provides insight and analysis through PB Marine Consulting Ltd.