NOT since new ports were built at Jubail and Jebel Ali nearly 20 years ago has the Gulf seen a marine project quite as ambitious as the work now underway at Ras Laffan in Qatar. This year will see several milestones passed on this giant undertaking as the port is prepared for the first exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan in January 1997.

The main port construction work was completed ahead of schedule towards the end of last year. The construction consortium led by Italy’s Condotte d’Acqua built a six-kilometre long main breakwater and a five-kilometre long lea breakwater. The two breakwaters enclose a sheltered basin area of about two kilometres in length, with a turning circle of 750 metres. The entrance channel is 280 metres wide and is dredged to a depth of 15 metres below chart datum.

Inside the port, there are two berths for loading 135,000 cubic metre vessels, with provision for two more berths to be added later. Two dry cargo berths, each 300 metres long, can accommodate up to 45,000 dwt ships. There is a 150-metre heavy load berth with a 35 metre ro-ro ramp. There are other berths for tugs and launches, and for loading liquid products on vessels of up to 300,000 dwt.

Much of the work to be done this year involves equipping the new port and completing onshore facilities. Buildings for the port administration, and operations and maintenance are under construction for completion in April. The procurement of tugs, pilot boats, launches and navigational aids is also proceeding. The engineering and procurement of safety, security and pollution control equipment should be completed by mid-year. The ministry of municipal affairs is building a housing development near Al-Khor for personnel of Qatargas, which is the first LNG project to come to fruition. Roads and power and water utilities are also under construction.

The export of LNG from Qatar’s North Field created the initial impetus for the port, but the plan is to turn the whole Ras Laffan area into an industrial city. The masterplan drawn up by Qatar General Petroleum Company (QGPC) sets aside 60 square kilometres for future projects. An area next to the Qatargas site has been allocated to the Rasgas LNG plant, scheduled to begin supplying Korea Gas Corporation from 1999. North-east of the Qatargas complex is a site designated for a third LNG project. Future petrochemical projects and other energy intensive industries will fill up other sections of the site.

Many of these developments will not be in place much before the start of the next century, but the huge new port will be ready for action before this year is out.

Long seen as the Gulf state with underdeveloped potential, Ras Laffan port is a concrete sign that Qatar is starting to make more of its considerable energy resources.