US to expand Bahrain naval base

09.06.2009 Bahrain

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The US Navy is planning a major expansion into Bahrain's old commercial port, reserving 70 acres to dock military ships at the Mina Salman port, which was decommissioned at the start of April.

A spokesman for the US Navy base in Juffair told our sister publication, the Gulf Daily News, that an agreement was signed with Bahrain's government in January last year.

"We are still waiting for a date to be finalised when we can take over that space," said US Naval support activity public affairs officer Lt Paul Macapagal.

"We now have less than two acres at the port, so the extra space will help us when we have ships calling on Bahrain."

Bahrain is already home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which covers 27 countries in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Its operations cover about 7.5 million sq mt from Somalia in the south to Kazakhstan in the north, Egypt in the West to Pakistan in the East - including the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.

The US Navy will now be able to berth more of its vessels at Mina Salman, which ceased commercial shipping operations with the opening of the BD131 million ($348 million) Shaikh Khalifa Port in Hidd.

General Organisation of Seaports commercial director Yousef Bubshait revealed the US Navy expansion was just one of the plans for the old port.

"We have a huge restructuring plan that is being worked out at the moment and part of that plan is to make more space available to the ships of the US Navy," he said.

"There is also a plan to rent out some of the land to them."

Bubshait added the US Navy already had a presence at the facility and said its expansion "may only entail more space to berth ships".

He also suggested the BDF, the Royal Bahrain Navy and the Coastguard could also make more use of Mina Salman.

"They have their own facilities and would want to expand them," he said.

Meanwhile, Mina Salman warehouses owned by the Seaports authority will now be rented out to private companies.

"The port has closed down as far as commercial and passenger shipping is concerned, but is in no way closed completely," said Bubshait.

"If at all that happens, it will be many years from now. Maybe we are looking at between five and 10 years at least."

Several companies still operate from the old port including Delmon Poultry and Bahrain Flour Mills Company, which have reportedly invested heavily in infrastructure at Mina Salman.

"There are some other companies that own warehouses there so they have huge business interests," said Bubshait.

Plans for the port could also see it used exclusively to import construction materials, such as iron, steel and cement.

"However, these are all plans being considered and no final decision had been taken yet," added Bubshait.

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