By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune
KARACHI: The hustle and bustle at berths eight and nine on the East Wharf of the Karachi Port was unusual on Tuesday. While workers unloaded and loaded cargo from UASC AJMAN, big shots of Pakistan’s port and shipping industry gathered under a marquee placed not too far away from the ship to mark the inaugural voyage of GEM 1 – a new service launched by United Arab Shipping Company (UASC), which will link India, Pakistan, West Asia Gulf, the Red Sea, Port Said and Turkey.
The GEM 1 service will call at the Pakistan International Container Terminal (PICT) – a dedicated terminal on the Karachi Port for handling containerised cargo – twice a week and deploy a total of eight ships with a capacity of 4,250 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) each on the Khor Fakkan, Sohar, Port Sultan Qaboos, Karachi, Hazera, Mundra, Khor Fakkan, Jebel Ali, Bahrain, Jubail, Khor Fakkan, Jeddah, Yanbu, Port Said, Mersin, Istanbul, Izmir, Port Said, Yanbu, Jeddah, Khor Fakkan route.
Headquartered in Kuwait, the UASC was established by Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 1976. UASC had an annual turnover in excess of $1.4 billion and total assets of $3.19 billion at the end of 2008, the latest year for which data is available on the company’s website.
Speaking to journalists, UASC Pakistan CEO Mallick K Mahmood said that although the UASC had operated in Pakistan for over 25 years, its presence was further strengthened when UASC established its subsidiary company United Arab Shipping Agency Company (UASAC) Pakistan last year.
“This service will provide Pakistani exporters with competitive transit times to a large number of ports in the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, East Mediterranean, North Africa and Black Sea,” Mahmood said. “Among all foreign shipping companies, UASC hires the largest number of sailors from Pakistan,” he added. He said UASC was also considering connecting Pakistan to ports in far-eastern countries. Saying that Pakistan traded a number of products, including cotton and plastic materials, from China, far-eastern and south-east Asian states, he said UASC can prove to be immensely beneficial in increasing the country’s volume of international trade.
The GEM 1 service will also provide coverage of other East Mediterranean and North African ports through relay services over Port Said in addition to providing access to a number of Black Sea ports through relay services over Istanbul, according to Mehmood.
Speaking on the occasion, PICT Chairman Captain Haleem A Siddiqui said the beginning of more direct calls at the Karachi Port will decrease shipment costs and increase port revenues. He added that with the continuous addition of modern cargo-handling equipment at PICT, the cost of handling a container had come down to less than $100 from up to $400.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5, 2012.