Saudi operator beefs up Asian container service
By K.K. CHADHA
THE National Shipping Co of Saudi Arabia (NSCSA) has cut transit times from Hong Kong to Dubai from 23 days to 16 days with its new fixed-day fortnightly service from Far East to the Middle East.
According to NSCSA vice-president (Asia) Ghazi Al-Ibrahim, this was achieved by adding four chartered roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) and semi-container vessels of 1,000 20-ft equivalent units (TEUs) to its fleet.
With the new service, NSCSA has also resumed direct calls at Kuwait, which was served on a transshipment basis before.
Westbound vessel rotation under the new fixed-day fortnightly service is Yokohama-Nagoya-Pusan-Keelung-Hong Kong-Shekou-Singapore-Port Klang-Jebel Ali-Dammam-Kuwait.
Eastbound vessel rotation will be Kuwait-Jakarta-Singapore-Yokohama.
Cargo bound for the Red Sea ports, such as Jeddah, Aqaba, Hodeidah, and the US will be transshipped at Singapore to connect with NSCSA's own seven 1,050-TEU Ro-Ro vessels that operate the Southeast-US east coast service.
Port rotation on the 26-day US service is Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-Colombo-Jeddah-New York-Jeddah-Singapore-Colombo-New York.
Mr Al-Ibrahim said Colombo was becoming a hub on the US service with the opening up of the Indian economy and increasing trade.
Cargo is shipped from Bombay and Calcutta to Colombo for onward shipment to the US.
Transit time from Colombo to the US is 26 days.
Mr Al-Ibrahim said the frequency of the Far East-Middle East service would be increased to weekly within the next year with the addition of more vessels.
Part of the reason for increasing the frequency was the growing trade between China and Saudi Arabia.
He said trade ties with China had become quite strong since Saudi Arabia granted the mainland most favoured nation (MFN) trading status.
China imports large quantities of petrochemical products from Saudi Arabia.
As Saudi Arabia's national carrier, it has the first right of call to carry all government cargo.
The company is 30 per cent owned by the government and 70 per cent by Saudi Arabian companies and individuals.
Mr Al-Ibrahim said NSCSA was the first line to call at Shekou Container Terminal when it opened in 1991.
Plans have been drawn up to provide a fortnightly feeder service to Hong Kong from Shanghai, Xingang, Qingdao, Dalian, Ningbo, Guangzhou and Xiamen using 350-TEU vessels.
A regional head office, NSCSA Asia, was opened in Hong Kong last month and will look after the company's Asian agency network.
Offices were also opened this year in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand as joint ventures with the company's former agents.
The Tokyo office will be formally opened on January and plans are to open offices in Taiwan and southern China.
Mr Al-Ibrahim said the expansion in Asian operations had been prompted by a steady growth in business as the Far East was the top commercial and oil partner of the Gulf.
The company is scheduled to place orders for five oil tankers and five Ro-Ro containerships this month.