Trucknet sets up a Gulf-Israel/Egypt land bridge

The Middle East in recent weeks has seen the setting up of a land bridge for goods unloaded from ships at ports in the Gulf bound for Israel, Egypt, and Europe, thus bypassing the Red Sea and the threat of attacks on ships by Houthi militia in Yemen.

Trucknet Enterprise, an Israeli digital freight marketplace start-up, has signed agreements with Emirati-based PureTrans, which operates a landline transit network spanning the region (and its partner, port terminals operator DP World), Cox Logistics (Bahrain) and also Egypt-based logistics services company WWCS, to co-ordinate trucking services connecting the Dubai port of Jebel Ali and the port of Mina Salman, in Bahrain, via Saudi Arabia and Jordan, to Haifa, in Israel and Port Said in Egypt, from where cargo can continue to Europe.

Agreements Enable Cooperative Effort

In passing, these agreements serve to highlight how cooperation between Israeli and Arab companies has advanced since the signature of the 2020 Abraham Accords, which saw Israel make peace with four Arab countries, led by the UAE and Bahrain.

“Following the Houthis attacks, we were contacted by many businesses asking if we could offer an alternative solution to transit through the Suez Canal. It was something of a coincidence that we had already been working on a PoC (Proof of Concept) for a land bridge for six or seven months and were, therefore, able to respond swiftly to these exceptional circumstances,” Trucknet’s CEO Hanan Fridman told AJOT in an interview.

Trucknet offers users “a fully digitized solution”, which includes real-time monitoring of trucks and the status of shipments, Fridman explained. “It’s imperative that we know the precise location of a truck and its ETA from both an operational and security point of view.”

The land bridge is pitched as an “express route,” shortening the maritime shipping routes by 10 days.

Fridman said that a box ship’s journey from the UAE to Haifa is about two weeks long, given that its itinerary usually entails calls at various ports en route to unload or load cargo before reaching the Israeli port. With the land bridge, a container unloaded at Jebel Ali and transferred to a truck can be in Haifa in only four days.

Bypass Saves 10 Days Transit Time

“We can save at least 10 days on every delivery from east to west and vice versa,” he said, adding that using the surface transport route works out at 15-20% more expensive than the traditional ship-only passage. “But when you need to get goods to market quickly there’s an additional price to pay.”

Nevertheless, Fridman noted that Trucknet’s emphasis on reducing the number of trucks returning empty to the UAE from Israel provides some scope to lower shipping costs via the land bridge.

However, it is worth noting that with the current hike in ocean freight rates due to the re-routing of ships around Africa and the longer transit times, in light of the Houthi attacks the land bridge would be a cheaper option.

“At the end of the day, the world is going to find a way of halting the Houthi attacks and this could take one week or two months. But whenever this comes about, we will have created an ‘express shipping line’ to cater to customers who need delivery to be faster, as well as one which facilitates traffic flows in times of crisis. We see the land bridge as a logistics solution that complements transit via the Suez Canal albeit one that only accounts for a very, very, small proportion of the trade that passes through its waters.”

He declined to disclose the truck volume the land bridge is generating at present nor the growth targets but underlined that Trucknet “is seeing strong demand from the shipping lines and manufacturing shippers and exporters.”

Fridman continued: “Our focus is on developing tech solutions, and we don’t have the necessary resources to market the land bridge as the volume of business increases. Ideally, we would like to see the shipping lines take this on as an express line which forms part of their range of services to shippers.”

Capacity Issues

He went on to reveal that a major challenge in the development of the land bridge is insufficient processing capacity for trucks at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge, the border crossing between Jordan and Israel, which can only handle up to 350 HGVs per day. “This will need to be resolved as the land bridge’s volume of business grows so that trucks don’t get held up in Jordan.”

Fridman added that his dream is to see the creation of a rail connection between the Sheikh Hussein Bridge and the Port of Haifa and even longer-term between Jebel Ali and Haifa.

Barry Pintow, manager at the Israeli Federation of Forwarders and Customs Clearing Agents (IFFCCA) highlighted that while the idea of the land bridge “is undoubtedly a clever one – operating from Dubai to Haifa, for example, without changing drivers and trucks at border crossings to minimize transit times” – he claimed there are several operational obstacles to overcome.

“For it to work in the Middle East, you need not only luck but also cooperation from neighboring countries. It is my understanding that many issues related to customs checkpoint procedures en route, documentation, and security have yet to be solved,” he told AJOT.

Dean Davison, head of maritime advisory at infrastructure development consultancy Infrata, said there’d long been a desire on the part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to develop land bridge service offerings in the wider region.

“And from a shipper perspective, it is good and indeed, preferred, to have some transport options. The transit time (with this particular land bridge) is highly competitive, although this can’t be matched by the capacity it could offer,” he told AJOT.

“Ultimately, any additional cost will need to be paid for, but a quick, safe, and confirmed transit will certainly appeal, especially for time-sensitive goods.”

He added: “There is an obvious degree of credibility with DP World involved and it fits the company’s aims of increasing its service offering throughout the supply chain.

Stuart Todd
Stuart Todd


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