Dubai Creek Cargo Wharves 1964-72

Dubai has a long history of trading with the Countries of the Gulf Region, India, Iran and East Africa. Sea going cargo ships of all nationalities arrived at Dubai and anchored offshore. They discharged their cargoes into barges which were towed into Dubai Creek to be unloaded. This was done at Dubai's Cargo Wharves. These became redundant when Port Rashid opened and later demolished to make way for the new Diwan.

Dubai's Cargo Wharves

Image by Michael Hamilton-Clark

There is almost no trace left of Dubaiside Cargo Wharves yet these wharves played a crucial role in Dubai's development as an international trading hub and port. Built on land reclaimed from Dubai Creek in early 1960s, these wharves handled millions of tons of cargoes brought to Dubai by Ocean Liners too big to enter Dubai Creek. These ships anchored offshore from Dubai and discharged their cargoes into barges. Loaded barges were towed into Dubai Creek to be unloaded at Dubaiside Wharves where their cargoes were either stored in corrugated iron sheds on the wharfside or in open secured sand areas. Sheikh Rashid had awarded the contract to transport cargoes between the ships and Dubai Wharves to Gray Mackenzie and Company and their tugs and barges became a familiar sight on Dubai Creek.

Dubai's Department of Customs

Dubai's Cargo Wharves and its operations were the responsibility of Dubai's Customs Department. They managed all the document procedures relating to the import, storage and delivery of cargoes. Dubai's Custom's procedures had undergone a radical change in the 1950s. Prior to then Dubai's Customs suffered from maladminitration resulting in loss of Customs' revenues. Sheikh Rashid appointed Bill Duff as his Customs Inspector General around 1954. Bill changed the way business was done in Dubai by changing the administration to streamline import procedures to make importing cargoes easier for Traders and Merchants and increase Government Customs' revenue as a result. Benefits of those changes continued through to the 1980s until containerisation arrived and necessitated new electronic based procedures.

Unloading Cargoes at Dubaiside Wharves

Barges were originally unloaded manually by Labourers. It was a slow process. Sheikh Rashid ordered a dockside crane from Scotland to speed up unloading. Heavier loads could be lifted with the crane but as the crane was manually operated so operations were still slow. Later more modern powered Mobile Cranes were purchased from Al Nasr Engineering Company to discharge barges. Once discharged, cargo was stored in open sand areas without protection from the elements. Four wheel drive Forklift Trucks moved cargoes in the sand areas. Originally designed for working on construction sites, these Forklift trucks appear to have been a preferred alternative to hard surfacing the storage areas, probably on the basis of cost. More delicate cargoes were put into storage sheds. Damaged goods were stored in a dedicated “Damaged Goods” Shed. These damaged goods were usually "unclaimed" by the Importer and remained in the Damaged Goods Shed for years. By 1971 the Damaged Goods Shed was an "Aladdin's Cave" of valuable items such as fur coats, medicines, leather goods, children's toys, machinery parts. These were sold off at a "onetime" auction prior to closure of the wharves in 1972.

Transport and Export

Merchants collected their cargoes from the Customs Area for temporary storage in their nearby “Godowns” or Warehouses. Generally these cargoes were sold for export and transported from Dubaiside to the Deiraside Dhow Wharves for overseas shipment. Opening of the Al Maktoum Bridge in 1963 made transportation between Dubai-side and Deiraside easier and contributed significantly to Dubai's growth as a Trading Centre.

Impact of Port Rashid's Opening 1972

Port Rashid's informal opening in November 1970 began to remove the need for the Dubaiside Cargo Wharves. Ocean Liners could now berth in Port Rashid to easily discharge their cargoes. Traders and Merchants could now get delivery of their cargoes in Port Rashid and transport to their Godowns. By 1972 when Port Rashid had 15 Berths and was formally opened by Sheikh Rashid these Dubaiside, storage sheds and area were redundant. What had previously been the hub of Dubai's trade became the site for the new Diwan (Dubai Government's Administration Complex). Storage Sheds and offices were demolished together with some Bastakia Windtower Buildings to make way for Dubai's modern Diwan. Only the Dockside Crane remains. It was refurbished in the 1990s as a memorial to Dubai's Creekside Wharves that played such an important role in Dubai's development.

IMAGES: Dubaiside Cargo Wharves 1971


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    1964: Overseas AST build Customs Wharf on Dubaiside
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    1964: Overseas AST building Customs Wharf.
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    Customs Wharf with Diwan and Bastakia in background
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    Crane ordered by Sheikh Rashid to improve cargo discharge.
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    Mobile Crane discharging Dhows at Customs Wharf
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    Dubai Customs Wharf
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    Dubai Customs Wharf 1971
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    Dubai Customs Wharf. Watr Tower in background.
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    White building housed Management for both Wharves and Port Rashid until 1973.
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    Dubai Customs Wharves have disappeared, replaced by a Creekside Promenade