Saudi prince announces Oxagon, the world’s largest floating industrial complex

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Saudi Arabia’s “Neom” high-tech megaproject plans to expand a tiny local port into a trade and manufacturing hub near the Suez Canal that its officials say will rival the largest facilities in the Middle East.

The proposal is the latest eye-catching announcement from Neom, whose progress on the ground has so far been limited to earthworks. About 12% of the world’s trade flows through the Suez Canal.

The port will serve as the base for an industrial city Neom announced last week to be called Oxagon, Vishal Wanchoo, Oxagon’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. An existing port near the Red Sea city of Dhiba will be transformed to handle a container capacity of 3.5 million to 4 million ton-equivalent units (TEUs) by 2030, he said.

The project could serve Neom’s commercial tenants, as well as the Gulf region, Jordan and Iraq in general, he said. Capacity could be expanded to 9 million TEUs depending on Oxagon’s growth, he added. Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, the largest in the region, has a capacity of more than 19 million TEUs.

“We will develop a state-of-the-art port and supply chain system and we have a real advantage because we are starting as a greenfield,” said Wanchoo, a former GE executive who joined Neom this year.

Announced in 2017, Neom is the crown jewel of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s program to reshape the economy of the world’s biggest oil exporter. His plan to turn the kingdom’s remote northwest coastal region into a robot-driven technology hub encapsulates the main elements of his so-called “Vision 2030” to diversify away from crude, loosen social restrictions and boost investment.

But the project has sparked controversy, including skepticism about its viability after some previous efforts to build economic free zones struggled to get off the ground.

Oxagon – which officials say will include a complex that will “float” on the sea – illustrates those ambitions and challenges.

The 50-square-kilometer (19-square-mile) zone is expected to house 80,000 to 90,000 residents and 40 to 50 businesses by 2030, Wanchoo said. He did not disclose planned spending for the project, which combines government and private sector investment.

The first phase of construction, through 2025, will focus on the segment to be built on land, he said, with the floating zone still in the “early design stages.”

“We wanted to look into the future and say with all the climate change that’s going on and sea level rise, could we build a modern Venice?” he said, “a floating city that doesn’t have to deal with sea level rise, or does because of the way it’s designed.”

Neom is exploring the possibility of connecting Oxagon Port to northeastern Saudi Arabia and the wider region, first by road and then by rail, he said. Container-capable port operations would begin in mid-2022 and expand thereafter, he said.

The project would rival in size the port in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Between Jeddah and Oxagon, the kingdom is also expanding a facility called King Abdullah Port, which aims to reach a capacity of 25 million TEUs.

Source gCaptain

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