Aden's Maritime Milestone: Transforming the Inner Harbour from 19th Century Challenges to Modern Marvels

Toward the end of the 19th century, Aden faced a significant challenge with the depth of water in its Inner Harbour and the consistent silting up of its access channels. This issue became increasingly critical as steamships grew larger in size. To paint a clearer picture of the situation, consider this: between 1875 and 1888, the demand for Aden's port services nearly doubled.

In 1875-76, 551 steamers, accounting for 61.7% of the total, managed to navigate into the inner harbour. However, by 1888-89, only 27.6% of steamers calling at Aden could enter the inner harbour, a stark decline exemplified by the mere 456 steamers that made it through. The situation hit its lowest point in 1890-91, with only 259 steamers able to access the harbour, leaving a whopping 80.4% of merchant ships anchored outside.

In response to this dire situation, 1891 marked the beginning of an extensive dredging project. The 'Mermaid', a self-propelled hopper ladder dredger, was employed for the task. In its first year, the Mermaid impressively cleared over 400,000 tons of spoil, creating a dredged channel that was 20 ft deep, 3350 ft long, and 440 ft wide. This dredging effort maintained an annual average removal of around 400,150 tons of spoil up until 1905-06.

The positive impact of these dredging efforts was soon evident. By 1891-92, the number of steamships entering the harbour had increased to 399, and by 1896-97, it further climbed to 457, nearly 40% of the ships calling at Aden. This upward trend continued robustly. By 1903-04, an impressive count of 909 steamers, over two-thirds of the total, were able to enter the inner harbour. And by 1914-15, less than 15% of ships had to remain outside.

Given the trend of increasing ship draughts, in November 1908, a decision was made to deepen the dredged channel to 30 ft at low water. An additional contract was secured to expedite this process, resulting in the completion of this task within two years. Remarkably, once dredged, the channel did not experience significant silting. However, in 1928, it was deemed necessary to deepen the channel further to 32.5 ft at low water, a project completed by 1930.

In the mid-1930s, Aden expanded its capabilities by dredging four deep water berths, achieving a depth of 35 ft at low tide. These developments weren't solely for commercial liners; they also accommodated large warships, including aircraft carriers, providing them safe harbour during wartime. By 1936, Aden boasted four oil berths, two of which doubled as deep water berths, connected to tanks ashore via a submarine pipeline.

Today, Aden's harbour has evolved significantly. The dredged channel now boasts a depth of 15 metres, and the deep water berths have been combined and enlarged to create a turning basin for large vessels in the inner harbour. For the most current layout and capabilities of the harbour, including details on the Aden Container Terminal which augments the functions of the Maalla Multi-purpose Terminal, one can refer to the latest plan available on