Sustainable Oman – How Duqm port’s record-breaking project came to life

Story Gautam Viswanathan

Duqm is being built as the centre of Oman’s non-oil economic future, one that will contain a number of diversified industries bringing in revenues from different sources, adding to the country’s coffers and reducing its dependence on oil and gas, which has been the mainstay in terms of income for the Omani economy for many decades.

Located on the coasts of Oman’s central Al Wusta governorate, the town of Duqm is today home to a number of construction projects, which when complete, will bring several manufacturing, transport, logistics, mining, energy and fishery companies to Duqm. And that’s just a few of the sectors in which companies are willing to invest.

As part of the ongoing developments in Duqm, the Special Economic Zone Authority at Duqm (SEZAD), the organisation charged with the development of the town and its surrounding areas, began construction of a port on the open waters of the Arabian Sea, at which ships can load and unload essential cargo.

As part of this massive port construction project, SEZAD commissioned the setting up of a liquid bulk storage facility, at which products generally shipped in their liquid form – such as oil, for example – can be transferred onto ships as well as stored safely onsite. This, the Duqm port’s Liquid Bulk Berth, was contracted to specialist Dutch port-building company Boskalis.

With the contract authorising Boskalis to set up operations in Duqm valued at €480million (OMR 200 million), the company began their operations in Duqm in 2017, and despite their considerable experience in this field, they faced several complex challenges while building the berth. Home to an enormous port area that will have a bulk terminal and a refinery, project director Bart Pröpper said, “Many hundreds of people work here every day. In addition to colleagues from numerous disciplines at Boskalis, there are a lot of local employees: more than 10 percent of our workforce is from Oman. We also make 10 per cent of our purchases with local small and medium companies and adapt our work to the needs of local fishermen and protect marine life, including a whale colony.”

Initial work included the construction of a large port basin and an entrance channel with a depth of 18 metres, and the construction of a kilometre-long quay wall and two 400-metre-long jetties. Boskalis started the second phase of the major land reclamation for the port area in the first half of 2019. The perimeter of the area will be protected with geotextile and a total of 1 million tons of rock.

Pröpper’s comments came during the 2018 annual report submitted by Boskalis, in which they had provided in detail the work that was required before the first building blocks of the port could be put in place. One of the specialist services needed in certain sectors of the project was the reclamation of low-lying land from the sea, an area that is called a polder in shipping terms.

Working with partners Six Construct, Boskalis also built a quay wall on the outer side of the polder.  More than 5,000 large concrete blocks were required for this operation and they were produced elsewhere on site. At the same time, the impressive steel structures were built in the middle of the polder for the two jetties. That involved installing 330 large steel piles that were then connected to each other with steel beams and in situ poured concrete platforms.

In late 2017 the cutter suction dredger Helios started the first phase of dredging for the entrance channel to the new port area. It also started excavating the outer section of the port basin. “We came across a lot of tough rock in this first stage. It was a challenge for the dredger,” Pröpper said. “To get the job done, a team of Boskalis specialists developed and produced new cutter heads within an extremely tight schedule. Since October 2018 the Helios has been using them to remove the remaining 15 million cubic metres of various types of rock.”

“What makes this project unique is that we first drained a large part of the future port by constructing a temporary ring dike, pump and kept out all water and then building all the structures in this so-called polder,” he said. “In late 2018 we made a landmark achievement: four million man-hours without a lost-time incident. Thanks in part to our innovative approach the option in our contract was recently awarded resulting in the dredging of an extra ten million cubic metres by the Helios and another reclamation job for approximately seven million cubic metres.”

While proper equipment and skill were among the main reasons Boskalis was able to make good time on the project, their in-house safety programme, called NINA, also proved useful when it came to avoiding injuries and prompting delays.

“We have been organising NINA training courses and toolbox meetings since the beginning of the project,” Pröpper said in his report. “We are working here with temporary staff from 25 different countries, including drivers and operators from places including Pakistan, India and Oman. Not everyone has a complete command of English and so we regularly call in local supervisors and foremen during safety meetings to translate and ensure that our safety message gets across properly.