ABU DHABI -- The new Khalifa shipping port in Abu Dhabi is huge. Built to accommodate ships that would not fit in the older Mina Zayed port and to promote trade, the $7.2 billion Khalifa port and adjacent Kizad industrial zone -- which together form Abu Dhabi's largest infrastructure project -- will be two-thirds the size of Singapore upon completion in 2030.
Built on an artificial island that extends five kilometers, or about three miles, offshore, the Khalifa port has an annual capacity of 2.5 million T.E.U. containers, the 20-foot equivalent units that are standard in the shipping industry, and the plan is to increase capacity by another 2.5 million containers in the second phase of the project, to be completed within three to five years. This amounts to a big jump from Mina Zayed's capacity of 800,000 containers a year.
"For Abu Dhabi to continue to grow, it needed a new port anyway," said Tony Douglas, chief executive of Abu Dhabi Ports Co. "The second driver is that of economic diversification away from oil, so this is a big step for industrialists in areas like aluminum, glass and steel who need a base in the emirate."
By the end of this year, the forty-year-old Mina Zayed port was expected to reach maximum container capacity because of Abu Dhabi's rapid growth. Set to formally open on Dec. 12, Khalifa Port began operations Sept. 1. It is already handling much of Mina Zayed's container traffic.
The port is set to fully replace Mina Zayed over the next six months, with Mina Zayed used as a hub for cruise liners instead.
Aside from sheer size, the port is also the most technologically advanced of its kind in the world. Gone are the days of a rowdy port with tattooed sailors. The Khalifa Port container yard is fully automated, with a control center that resembles an air traffic control tower.
If a problem alert arises on a monitor, the automation is switched off and trained technicians are able to lift cranes and shift containers manually from the comfort of control rooms.
Khalifa Port is part of a large-scale project under the umbrella of the government owned by Abu Dhabi Ports Co., a developer of ports and industrial zones established in 2006 that aims to revamp transportation and trade in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The project is financed by the Abu Dhabi government.
The idea is to improve trade by sea, air, road and rail. Aside from the Khalifa port and Kizad industrial zone, plans are in place to expand road networks by extending Emirates Highway and Sheik Zayed Road, completing the national railroad network and supporting airport developments.
The Khalifa port and industrial zone represent continued efforts by Abu Dhabi to diversify away from oil. In 2009, 60 percent of Abu Dhabi's gross domestic product of $100 billion was linked to oil and natural gas. The aim is to have G.D.P. of $400 billion by 2030 with only 40 percent related to oil and gas, Mr. Douglas said.
"So it's switching the 60-40 ratio of oil dependence around while increasing G.D.P. fourfold, largely by targeting non-oil-related fields, like the industrial sector, which is of greatest interest to us," he said.
Industries including aluminum, glass, food processing, logistics and distribution will have hubs in the industrial zone of Kizad.
"Already, 25 percent of the space has been committed to people who have paid deposits and are now putting together the project financing in order to develop big plants," Mr. Douglas said. "Our plan is to sell all the space in the next two years."
The project will also create jobs. There are currently 1,400 employees, with plans for 100,000 jobs by 2030, he said.
The infrastructure for Kizad A and its dedicated Khalifa Port Phase 1 is now complete, while Kizad B is still under construction. They are both at Taweelah, halfway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
"Upon completion, it will place Abu Dhabi in a stronger position to compete with neighboring Dubai as a key regional transport and re-export hub," said Jamie Ingram, a Middle East analyst at IHS Global Insight, based in London.
Khalifa Port's main rival in the United Arab Emirates is the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai, 40 kilometers away. It is owned by DP World, one of the world's largest port operators, which recently announced plans to invest $850 million over the next three years to increase the port's capacity to 19 million T.E.U. containers.
Regional competitors include Jubail in Saudi Arabia and ports in Europe. But Mr. Douglas said the Khalifa port and Kizad were developed with three principles in mind: having low operating costs, operating in an environment where it is easy to do business, and creating an integrated transportation system that allows for access to global markets.
"Europe does not have low operating costs and Jubail in Saudi Arabia is one potential competitor, but it's relatively not an easy place to do business," he said. "In addition, the new port in Abu Dhabi is part of a master plan that has easy access to airports, the first port in the region that is designed to have a heavy rail, and has proximity to the biggest highway."
With 60 percent of world trade coming out of the Far East -- particularly from ports in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore -- Abu Dhabi's new port is in an ideal geographical position between East and West, he added.
"Today, 85 percent of everything we consume travels by sea -- what people eat, raw materials that build houses, consumer goods," Mr. Douglas said. "The Far East will continue to dominate global trade, but maybe not at the same rates as we've seen in the last 20 years, and with the completion of our project, we'll be in a powerful position of growth."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.