The expansion of Jordan’s Aqaba Container Terminal is viewed by the government as a key development in the country’s economy. Due to be completed next month, Yamurai Zendera was granted special access to the project
Aqaba Container Terminal has grown in recent years from a feeder port to a mature main-liner facility and plays a crucial role in the Jordanian economy, contributing towards growth and development regionally.
It is Jordan’s only container terminal and therefore serves as a gateway for the Jordanian market, as well as for transit cargo moving to and from other countries in the region.
The masterplan for the port anticipates achieving a drastic increase of throughput capacity through a combination of physical and operational improvements.
BAM International Abu Dhabi LLC, which is the division of Dutch contractor Royal BAM serving the Middle East and GCC states, was appointed as main contractor on a build-only basis for an upgrade of the terminal in June 2011. It is carrying out civil infrastructure works. Jordanian firm MAG Engineering & Contracting is principle sub-contractor and is carrying out a large portion of the works.
The firms are extending the terminal’s quay by 460m and developing the area behind the wharf into a container handling facility servied by rubber-tyred gantry (RTG) cranes.
This will result in a doubling of annual capacity, allowing port operators Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC) and APM Terminals to handle around 1.5m TEU (twenty-foot equivalent container units) a year.
Work started on the $140m project on 4 June 2011 and the final handover date is expected to be 12 October 2013.
BAM is carrying out all marine works including construction of the combi wall, construction of the wharf/deck on piles and installation of piles on the original wharf.
MAG is carrying out all landside works including painting and shop splicing piles, land reclamation and paving, access road construction, precast elements for the wharf deck, concrete works for the existing wharf structure, and services.
BAM project manager Stan Aarts says: “There’s a really good synergy between MAG, our local partner that has all the resources to do the landside, and BAM, which is using its strength for all the marine-side work. In that sense, we are also much more competitive than if we were to do it ourselves.”
The project has been split into three phases. The now-complete first phase saw 200m of quay handed over for immediate use in February this year.
Phase two consists of a further 260m of quay – of which the first 130m was handed over in May, with the final 130 metres of quay due for completion as the project finishes in October.
Phase three includes work to the existing wharf deck, where the project team is building a new crane rail of over 140m to accommodate a series of bigger ship-to-shore (STS) cranes.
Aarts says: “The second we hand over a portion of the project, within no time at all the containers are on the stacking area and a couple of days later the first ships are at the berth unloading.
"You can really see that this project has instant value for the client.”
One of the unique challenges of the project is that the contractors are working while the terminal is operational.
Therefore, logistics needed to be carefully thought out at the tender stage to ensure continuity of workflow, as well as ensuring safety standards.
“You see a ship that is maybe 50m away from our work front, so we have to be in good contact with ACT regarding their ship movements,” says Aarts.
He explains that coordination meetings take place regularly with port authorities to ensure everything runs smoothly. In addition, BAM and MAG get a copy of the weekly shipping schedule from ACT.
“On top of that we also have radios so we’re in constant contact with ports control,” adds Aarts. “Container handling is a core business for ACT and that has to continue and we have to make sure that that can continue.”
Furthermore, heavy containers have been used as fencing to separate the project team’s work area from the container terminal.
Due to the confined nature of the work site, two off-site locations were set up at the outset: one a paint yard for the sand blasting and painting of the steel pipes, and the second a precast yard to allow for building the various precast elements.
“Before driving the piles for both combi wall and wharf, the piles needed to be painted, so the first thing we did was setting up the paint yard. That was the critical one to start,” says Aarts.
“With the precast, we had a little bit more time because we only required precast about nine months into the project.”
BAM has almost wrapped up marine works and is now focusing on dredging. The plan is to dredge to a level of -15.5 chart datum.
To achieve this it will have to take out around 8,000m3 of material - a relatively small amount.
“It actually provides a challenge because it’s not worthwhile to mobilise the real dredging equipment, so the work is being done with a clamp shell,” explains Aarts.
“It’s slower, but it’s equipment we have on site and with that it’s also more economical. Plus, it’s work which is not on a critical path so we have a bit of time for it.”
On land, MAG is currently focusing on constructing the services, pavement works, backfilling and installing a crane rail. A bituminous spray has been applied to pavement foundations of the container stacking area in phase two, while the crane rail in this area is being aligned and grouted.
Across modules five to eight at the terminal, two rear crane rails have been installed to allow the existing smaller STS cranes to operate and to accommodate the bigger STS cranes.
“On the existing wharf, the wider rail is not there over a length of 140m so to be able to get those big cranes to travel everywhere we had to do this rail as well.
“This existing deck was never designed to take the loads of the bigger STS cranes, so to be able to cater for the loads, we are making openings in the deck, driving plies through it and building a new beam over it, and then (installing) the crane rail,” says Aarts.
He adds that the project team has been able to achieve significant savings for the client through value engineering at the tender stage.
One proposal was to move the combi wall slightly further seawards at certain locations to save on a row of piles.
Aarts adds: “Another proposal was the combi wall itself. The original design was sheet piles with a rock revetment in front. We proposed that this should be replaced with a combi wall with tubular piles which removed the need for a rock revetment. This saves both time and money. Also, by going precast we don’t have to do the deck in situ.”
At the project's peak in March of this year, a total of approximate 420 people from 13 different nationalities were working on site. That has now dropped to around 230.
“This was BAM’s first project in Jordan and everyone is working hard to ensure we are on course to deliver it on time and in budget,” Aarts says.
Speaking to Construction Week’s sister title Maritime & Ports recently, the CEO of operating firm APM Terminals, Peder Sondergaard, said the upgrade would help to increase the amount of transit cargo it handles – particularly to Iraq.
“That’s part of where we see further expansion of the terminal with deeper and better quays and bigger cranes being able to service the bigger ships,” he said.
“We already know from our customers that they will start putting in bigger ships as a consequence of our infrastructure upgrades.
"That will just make Jordan and Aqaba more attractive, especially for Iraqi transit cargo.”