The authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of the situation that occurred at Saudi Arabia’s largest and busiest port during Ramadan, when a lack of staff on the dockside caused huge delays to the loading and unloading of cargoes, with some ships bypassing the gridlocked port.

“We wanted to avoid a similar situation,” says one senior official at the port.

“Dockers did not work because of Ramadan and Eid, and the number of containers at the port increased. We had to hire labourers from the local market on a daily basis.”

The authority was forced to bring in 800 extra labourers to clear the onshore backlog of cargo and containers.

However, negotiations with the ministry over staffing at the port were slow and many ships are thought to have bypassed Jeddah because of the delays.

“We have agreed with the Labour Ministry to speed up bringing in extra workers,” says the official. “But the situation is better now. There are no ships waiting at the port.”

China Harbour Engineering Company has won the contract to build a new container terminal at the port.

Construction of the $443m Red Sea Gateway terminal began in January this year, and is scheduled to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2009.

By then, the port’s capacity will have reached 6 million 20-foot-equivalent units (MEED 28:11:08).