The Kuwait-based United Arab Shipping Company (UASC) has signed a contract with UK consultants Ocean Fleets to design its new generation of container vessels. The new fleet, which comprises 10 ships with a combined capacity of 4,000 containers, is valued at $900 million-920 million. It will replace 13 vessels operating at present between Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.

UASC is planning to expand its operations outside the Gulf region after suffering heavy losses due to growing competition and world recession. The company has decided to establish a base in Port Said, serving countries in the Mediterranean from the start of 1995.

The company plans to boost its services both to East Asia, where it aims to ship 2,000 containers to the region a week, and to North America, where it aims to ship 1,500 containers a week with the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia. It has recently ordered 20,000 new containers from Japan, South Korea and Germany.

Jointly owned by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, and the UAE, UASC is the Arab world’s largest joint shipping venture. In 1993, it made a loss of $11 million. Shipping rates remain 20-40 per cent lower than their 1991 level, despite three increases in the last 15 months.