As developing countries are expanding their market share in the maritime industry, the government of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) has renewed its focus on further developing the emirate's geo-strategic advantage in this field. Located along the Persian Gulf with a view of the Strait of Hormuz, RAK Ports Group has capitalised on its favourable geographical positioning, and it is rapidly becoming a leader in importing raw materials and providing bulk handling facilities.

“Our competitors are not competing with us because they cannot compete,” says Alan Pollard, business development manager at RAK Ports. “Our unique selling point is we are close to the marketplace, we are close to sources of cement, and we have efficient handling systems.”

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With diversification at the heart of RAK’s economic development, in the past four years alone, RAK’s government has invested more than $220m in developing RAK Ports’ operations. RAK Ports offers companies in the maritime business an impressive suite of equipment and facilities designed to service companies’ operations within the United Arab Emirates as well as neighbouring countries.

“RAK Ports Group has five ports, [which are] managed by the Saqr Port Authority,” says Colin Crookshank, group general manager of RAK Ports. “We have brought the ports together under one umbrella, but given them each an identity and an individual niche. They all complement each other... for any customer that comes here, we find a place for them somewhere.”

In the right place

In no small part down to its location at the northern tip of the UAE, bordering Oman, RAK Ports has experienced considerable success in attracting foreign investors. Hosting diverse players in the maritime industry, from UK-based Knauf Drywall Systems to Malaysia’s Shin Yang Shipping Corporation, as well as UAE companies such as Shipping Services and Rakob, RAK Ports boasts a range of facilities for both local and international companies. In fact, RAK Ports has been rapidly expanding to cater for the rising demand from operators keen to take advantage of its geographical proximity to markets in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, from a cost-effective base with highly integrated road and shipment links.

The recent addition of RAK Maritime Facility, RAK Ports' fifth port, reveals the proactive manner in which RAK Ports has acted to support increasing investor demand. RAK Maritime City has been developed to support Saqr Port’s activities and reinforce RAK Ports' global business footprint.

Of the other four ports, Saqr Port is the largest bulk-handling port in the Middle East and north Africa, and has developed a reputation for efficiently managing a fast turnover of vessels. Al Jazeera Port is positioned as a ‘one-stop shop’ for dry docking and ship repairs in the UAE. RAK Khor Port offers a range of modern cargo handling facilities and services, and it also hosts a new passenger and cruise terminal. Located at the RAK border with the Musandam Oman, Al Jeer Port is the largest marina facility in RAK which handles general cargo and livestock. “We are almost full now,” says Mr Crookshank. “RAK Maritime City is already filling up rapidly.”

Having attained international certification, being an International Ship and Port Facility Security and International Organization for Standardisation-accredited port, RAK Ports is establishing a reputation among investors for offering world-class, internationally approved facilities at an affordable cost. For Mr Crookshank, the formula for success is straightforward: “It is the unique opportunities at RAK [Ports], as well as our operational efficiency, our speed of handling, and our competitive pricing,” he says.

“You must look at the niches we have created,” adds Mr Pollard. “If we look at RAK Maritime City, our uniqueness is that we have a private jetty space. There is nobody else in the Middle East that is offering a marine free zone with private jetties.”

Low-cost location

In common with the rest of RAK, cost has been one of the major differentiators influencing companies to consider RAK Ports for their operations. “The big saving in all of this is fuel costs and location,” says Mr Crookshank. “We were in Singapore to talk to the marine offshore companies [there]. This is because there are hundreds of vessels working in the oil and gas industry in the Gulf region and we are offering a service for them to repair their vessels in RAK Ports.”

Indeed, with companies from developing and middle-tier economies – mainly from the Gulf region – being principal clients of RAK Ports, the authorities remain confident that their market share in the marine industry will continue to grow. “We operate very specific niche projects, and 75% of our exports from Saqr Port are within the Gulf,” says Mr Pollard. “Our core business in terms of Saqr Port is in building materials, and the upsurge in the past two years in building projects in the Gulf region has impacted [us] in a positive way.”

Its extensive client base in the Middle East means that RAK Ports' client portfolio in the region, primarily in the construction sector, will buffer it from the risks of a slump in global demand from developed markets, as well as a reduced demand from specific markets in the Middle East. “Even though Dubai crashed, which was quite a big customer for us construction-wise, Abu Dhabi was growing, as was Qatar and Kuwait,” says Mr Crookshank. “So we never suffered from that crash.”

In fact, Saqr Port has grown by 60% in the past two years, according to estimates from RAK Ports Authority, due to the increase in the construction industries throughout the Gulf region. “The big trade increases for us will be in the Gulf region,” says Mr Crookshank. “One of our major drives is to get out and spread the word of RAK. We will not sit back and wait for people to come and talk to us. We have a success story to talk about and we think RAK is unique in its geo-strategic location.”