Over the past two years interest in the long-planned Al Faw Grand Port project in Basra has increased again. Despite various hold ups due to political, economic and security-related concerns, construction has started again and when finished, Al Faw will be Iraq’s only deep-sea port and one of the world's 12 largest.
The idea of the new port was first mooted over a decade ago and in 2003, an Italian company was tasked with the job of a feasibility study. The question was whether to build a whole new port or redevelop existing ones. The conclusion was that it would be better to construct a new port.
There are four ports in Basra and Iraq exports over three-quarters of all of its oil via these. But there is a problem: Water depth in the existing ports is limited and cannot accommodate the increasingly large tankers. Only Al Faw port will have the capacity for this, as well as offering land routes linking Iraq with Europe, through Turkey.
The project has saved us and when it’s finished, it will be even better,, one of the local fishermen said.
The Al Faw port project’s director, Asaad Rashid, told NIQASH that the importance and increasing interest in the development is no secret in Iraq. The port will include not only docks but power and desalination plants, steelworks and other factories. There are also other additions planned to Faw port, including a possible land tunnel.
Drinking water and power shortages as well as high youth unemployment make the project even more important. “These projects around the port will bring thousands of jobs,” Rashid argued.
According to Rashid, work on dikes is ongoing and the construction on the first docking area has started.
Construction had already started on the breakwaters destined to protect the port. One was supposed to be 8 kilometres long and the other 16 kilometres long. These would be the biggest breakwaters in the region.
Parts of the second breakwater remain under construction but were delayed because of Iraq’s financial crisis early on, during building. Oil prices fell and the security crisis sparked by the extremist group known as the Islamic State began, all of which strained the Iraq’s national budget.
Wissam al-Rikabi, who heads the department of civil engineering at the University of Basra, believes that the Iraqi government should prioritise investment in giant infrastructure projects like this one.
Whatever people say about the competition from other ports in Kuwait or Dubai, Iraq is the only country whose new port will border on Europe, via Turkey, al-Rikabi argued. “Iraq has long been considered the shortcut between Asia and Europe and one that replaces long and expensive sea routes,” he explained.
“We should make use of the Faw area to the utmost,” adds Ahmad Hamdan, a retired geology professor who lives in Basra. “The country cannot continue relying only on oil revenues.”
Other locals in the Faw area are ready and willing to make the project a reality. Many of them used to make their living from fishing but after Kuwaiti and Iranian coastguards started to restrict fishing waters, a lot of them found this impossible. While many remain unemployed, others have started working on the port construction projects.
“We now have employment opportunities as blacksmiths, carpenters and builders,” one local, a former fisherman called Ahmad Sadoun, told NIQASH. “The project has saved us and when it’s finished, it will be even better,” he concluded optimistically.