The Port of Aqaba is at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba off the Red Sea in southeast Jordan. Just nine miles from the border with southern Israel, the Port of Aqaba is the country’s only seaport. The capital of the Aqaba Governorate, the Port of Aqaba is well-known as a popular beach and diving resort. But the Port of Aqaba is an industrial center and an important exporter of phosphate and shells. In 2008, over 95 thousand people lived in the Port of Aqaba.
Since 2000, Aqaba Special Economic Zone was created by law, creating new life for the local economy. New tourist resorts are rising, new housing developments are being built, and companies are moving into the area and investing in the Port of Aqaba. Significant investments are creating healthy competition for Israel’s popular Eilat resort.
Due to its location at the crossroads of trade routes between Europe, Asia, and Africa, the area of Port of Aqaba has been inhabited since at least 4000 BC. The earliest settlement was the center for the Edomites. Later, Arab Nabataens inhabited the region. The Christian Bible talks about the area when it reports that King Solomon built ships near Edom on the Red Sea shores, probably during the Iron Age.
The Greeks called the city Berenice. The Romans named it Aelana and Aila, and Rome’s great Via Traiana Nova carried travelers south from Damascus to Aqaba, where the road connected with the western route to Philistia and Egypt.
After the Prophet Muhammad conquered Arabia in the 7th Century AD, the Port of Aqaba was ruled by the Islamic Caliphate. Early in the Islamic period, the city of Ayla was built near the modern Port of Aqaba. (Ayla’s ruins were discovered in the 1980s.) It passed through several Arab dynasties.
The Crusaders’ Kingdom of Jerusalem controlled the Port of Aqaba area during the 12th Century. They built the fortress of Helim to preserve their control. They also fortified Pharaoh’s Island, about seven kilometers west of Aqaba in what is today Egypt. The great Saladin recaptured the Port of Aqaba and Pharaoh’s Island by 1170 AD.
The Mamluks took control of the Port of Aqaba in 1250 and reconstructed the Crusaders’ fort in the 14th Century. By the early 16th Century, the Ottoman Empire held the area. Under Ottoman rule, the Port of Aqaba declined in status. It remained a small fishing village for the next 400 years.
Ottoman troops were forced from the area in 1917 during World War I after a raid led by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Sharif Hussein’s Arab forces. The Port of Aqaba then fell to the Kingdom of Hejaz under Prince Faisal. Control of the Port of Aqaba opened supply lines between Egypt and Allied forces in the northern areas of Transjordan and Palestine. Further, it protected the critically important Suez Canal from Turkish threats. In 1925, the Port of Aqaba was transferred from Transjordan to become a British protectorate.
In 1939, the Port of Aqaba consisted of a small lighter quay. In 1952, by Royal Decree, the Aqaba Port Authority was established, and new facilities were added to the port. The old quay was expanded and improved, and storage yards and facilities were added. At that time, the Port of Aqaba’s cargo volume was 60 thousand tons.
In 1958, the Aqaba Port Authority became the Aqaba Port Department. Cargo volume was expanded to 600 thousand tons. In 1959, new facilities were constructed, and a new berth for exporting phosphate was added, increasing the port’s capacity to 684 thousand tons.
In 1964, cargo-handling volume increased it 833 thousand tons when a new berth was constructed and new storage space was created.
In 1965, in an effort to expand Aqaba’s area of influence, King Hussein traded 12 kilometers of coastline from Saudi Arabia for six thousand square kilometers of desert in the interior of Jordan. The additional land not only provided room for the Port of Aqaba to grow, it gave Jordan access to the magnificent Yamanieh coral reef. Until the 1980s Persian Gulf War, the Port of Aqaba was a major importer of goods from Iraq.
In 1966, the Port of Aqaba added a second phosphate exporting berth and two new phosphate stores. Vegetable oil and fuel tanks were constructed, bringing cargo volume to 1.3 million tons. In 1971, new equipment was added to help with the increasingly heavy loads of cargo.
In 1976, the Port of Aqaba gained new floating berths for containers and roll-on/roll-off vessels and for bulk cement. By 1978, the Aqaba Port Department was merged with the marine corporation, creating the Aqaba Ports Corporation. By this time, cargo-handling volume had reached 3.7 million tons.
Four new berths were built in 1980 to add new cargoes to the Port of Aqaba’s throughput. A new roll-on/roll-off berth and two cargo and lighter berths were added. Four cargo stores and open yards also increased storage capacity at the Port of Aqaba. Grain silos were also added within port property. In 1980, the Port of Aqaba had capacity for handling 6.6 million tons of cargo.
In 1982, three new container berths were constructed in the Port of Aqaba, including a roll-on/roll-off berth for potash and chemical fertilizers, bringing cargo volume to 11.7 million tons. Additionally, new gantry cranes, housing for employees, and a club were created. In 1983, the Port of Aqaba constructed a marine slip for lighter and boat maintenance and started ferry services for cargo and passengers to Egypt’s Port of Nuweibah.
The Port of Aqaba constructed an oil berth and a new modern passenger terminal in 1988 when cargo volume was 20 million tons. In 1990, a new communication station was built on the coast. That year, cargo volume was 15 million tons. In 1991, the Port of Aqaba built the marine tower and department offices, and cargo volume reached 13.2 million tons.
In 1994, the port added tug and pilot boats as well as new stores for the container terminal and new housing for employees. In 1995, the Port of Aqaba purchased new container-handling equipment and added a 2200 square meter forage store. In 1996, the Prince Hamza oil pollution combat center was created.
In 2000, Jordan’s Parliament created the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority with regulatory, economic, and administrative responsibility for the economic zone. The zone has brought rapid economic and industrial growth to the Port of Aqaba.
The Port of Aqaba’s container terminal was privatized in 2004, and new cargo-handling equipment and towing vessels were purchased. In the same year, new container yards were built, and the Port of Aqaba implemented the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) code. In 2004, the Port of Aqaba handled 21 million tons of cargo. All of the Ports Corporation’s departments were computerized in 2005.
The Port of Aqaba’s marine services were privatized in 2006, and the new port gates were constructed. Additional port infrastructure was developed in 2007, and more equipment was acquired.
In 2008, the Port of Aqaba focused on maintaining and raising the capacity of the port’s berths and storage areas.