Hutchison Port Holdings, the world’s largest container terminal operator, is to open a container port in Oman, increasing the competition between ports in the key area around the Arabian Gulf.

Hong Kong-based Hutchison has signed an agreement to develop the container terminal at Sohar, on the Gulf of Oman near the entrance to the key Hormuz Strait, with the Sohar Industrial Port Company – a joint venture between the Sultanate of Oman and the Port of Rotterdam.

Traffic in the Gulf region has grown strongly, with container ports in Dubai up by more than 24 per cent last year.

Hutchison said its terminal – which would be developed by a company owned by Hutchison, the Omani government, Steinweg of the Netherlands and Omani investors – would cater mainly for traffic to and from industrial facilities being developed around Sohar.

It would not seek to compete for Dubai’s main business, trans-shipping containers bound for other ports from large vessels to smaller feeder vessels.

The Sohar Industrial Port Company, nevertheless, underlined the potential threat to other container ports around the Gulf by pointing out that Sohar had excellent road links to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The first phase of the development will open in May. A second, bigger phase with deeper water to accommodate the largest container ships ever likely to be built, will open in 2007.

Neil Davidson, container ports analyst at Drewry Shipping Consultants, said that, while the terminal was primarily intended to serve the new industries around Sohar, “you have to think they would have a go at the trans-shipment market if they could,” he said.

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