Tarek Al-Molla, Egypt’s minister of petroleum and mineral resources, and Ivan Surkoš, head of the European Union delegation in Egypt, launched cooperation between the ministry and Belgium’s port of Antwerp last week to develop bunkering services in Egypt.
Bunkering is the storage of petroleum products in tanks, and it also involves refuelling ships.
This is a step towards Egypt’s strategy to become a regional energy hub, and it is an outcome of the new round of energy dialogue between Egypt and the EU that took place last week to discuss speeding up the implementation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on strategic cooperation in energy that was signed between the EU and Egypt in April 2018.
The aim of the cooperation with Antwerp, Surkoš said, was to develop the bunkering business in Egypt in line with the country’s oil and gas hub strategy. Antwerp is one of the largest ports in Europe. It is highly reputed worldwide in terms of trading in oil and liquefied natural gas bunkering.
“The port of Antwerp has extensive hands-on experience that would help develop a vision based on analysis and assessment of the oil and gas hub strategy, including its implementation plan and other information. This vision is necessary at this stage when Egypt is keen on developing a number of activities related to its role as an oil and gas hub,” he said.
Belgium has a network of six ports, including Antwerp, and their direct value to the Belgian economy is estimated at 4.3 per cent of GDP, with an additional indirect value of 3.5 per cent. This represents around 32,000 million euros of direct and indirect value in total, and 253,000 direct and indirect jobs.
While Belgium produces only a small share of its energy requirements, its location and its connectivity with the countries of the region have allowed it to become a major energy hub.
“It is clear that Belgium’s expertise and the expertise of the port of Antwerp as a major actor in the field is very relevant to Egypt’s project as a regional hub,” Belgian Ambassador to Egypt Sibille de Cartier pointed out, adding that Antwerp was not only the second-most important port in Europe and Belgium’s main actor in this field, but also Europe’s biggest petrochemical cluster.
It has developed as a centre of excellence supporting the development of ports worldwide from Asia to Africa, she said.
Kristof Waterschoot, managing director of the port of Antwerp, said that the unique position that Egypt has on the Mediterranean along with the Suez Canal means that there is a great opportunity for it to have a leading role as a bunkering hub in the future.
“We are very proud to be chosen to assist in this project, because we have all seen the huge progress that Egypt has made in recent years in the energy field and in becoming an energy power in the region,” Waterschoot said.
Laurens Westhoff, ambassador of the Netherlands to Egypt, said that the Dutch Global Gas Network Initiative would partner with the port of Antwerp in the project with Egypt to provide technical assistance.
Westhoff said that the Netherlands planned to spend 120 million euros over the next four years in cooperation projects with Egypt, namely in energy, water, agriculture and youth employment.
The Egyptian oil and gas sector has embarked on a huge transformation project to unlock the sector’s full value-chain potential and turn Egypt into a regional oil and gas hub, Al-Molla said.
“The EU is one of our most important strategic partners that has an active role in the journey of Egypt towards becoming a regional energy hub,” he added.
“Through cooperation with the EU, the latter has provided us with a grant to gain technical assistance from the port of Antwerp, and we are working to develop an action plan concerning bunkering activities in Egypt and to incorporate Egypt’s plans for a low-sulphur fuel hub,” he said.
Egypt is rapidly becoming a growing economy in a region where the energy sector attracts major investments, the petroleum minister said.
The EU has a number of ongoing projects and programmes in the energy sector in which more than 300 million euros in grants have been injected and leveraging more than one billion euros in concessional loans from European financial institutions, Surkoš said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Partners in an energy dream