Refinery at Little Aden

Before long the countries of the British Commonwealth will be in a position to meet virtually all their oil requirements from the output of their own refineries. Outside of the United Kingdom and Canada, which are already in this position, about £150 million is being spent on building and expanding refineries which will be capable of dealing with over twenty million tons of oil annually, an amount expected to cover consumption. Today, existing refineries outside the United Kingdom and Canada handle only eight million tons of oil a year.

The largest of the individual refineries now being built in the Commonwealth is sited at Little Aden, six miles across the bay from Aden, where Aden Petroleum Refinery Ltd. (a subsidiary of Anglo-lranian Oil Co.) will by 1955 be refining five million tons of oil annually.

Since the standstill at Anglo-lranian's Abadan refinery in 1951, the company has had to carry oil from the Persian Gulf to its European refineries and ship the finished products back to the Aden and African marketing areas. As Aden is one of the biggest consumers for ships’ bunkers in the world, this has meant a heavy demand on tankers. Even before Abadan was closed plans were drawn up for a refinery at Aden, mainly to cater for the fuel oil demand supplied through B P (Aden) Ltd., a subsidiary of Anglo-lranian.

After negotiations with the Aden Government, which co-operated fully with the company's survey parties, work on a refinery and oil harbour estimated to cost between £40 million and £50 million began in November 1952. It is expected that the refinery will be operating by the end of 1954.

Fuel oils and marine diesel oil, which will be supplied to the existing bunkering installations at Aden by pipe-line round the bay from Little Aden, will be the main products of the refinery. Other products, which will include motor spirit, kerosene and gas oil, will be distributed to markets in the Red Sea, East Africa and South Africa. Aden is on the direct route from Anglo-Iranian's Persian Gulf crude oil sources to these markets, and the absorption of a considerable part of the refinery's output in the Aden bunkering trade will mean economy in tanker transport, since this fuel will not require reshipment.

Aden Petroleum Refinery Ltd. is co-operating with the Aden authorities to ensure that the whole new development at Little Aden will fit into their plans for overall development.


The land on which the refinery is being built is leased from the Aden Government. Two hundred and seventy acres will be occupied by the refinery and tank farm. In addition, a port capable of receiving five million tons of crude oil a year, and loading a proportion of the finished products into tankers, is being built. A township, including quarters for the company’s employees, with amenities, shops, minor industries, and all municipal facilities, is planned, and building is to start in the near future.

Nevertheless, the company will make every effort to avoid creating an exclusive industrial community. It is intended that the area shall be developed as a natural expansion of the town of Aden itself, and it is hoped that eventually homes will be built there by other interests so that the community will not represent so much an "oil town'' as a cross-section of the life of the Colony. Anglo-Iranian will be responsible for building the township on behalf of the Aden Government, who will control the orderly development of the area and take over the public utility services, roads, lighting, water supplies and drainage, and operate them as a part of the local township authority.

A British staff of about 250 will operate the refinery, together with about 2,000 other skilled and unskilled employees.

Work on the site officially began on November 1, 1952, and for the first four and a half months the liner Dorsetshire served as a floating camp for about 350 of the contractors’ employees. The number of men on the site rapidly increased and by the end of March this year more than 4,000, including about 900 British, American and Dutch technicians, were at work. Others working on the site include men from Aden Colony and Aden Protectorate as well as Italians and others.

One of the first tasks was the building of construction camps, each a temporary townlet complete with its own living quarters, mess, recreation centre, and other facilities. Built mainly from local materials, these camps were ready for occupation by locally recruited workmen in March. At the same time technicians occupied prefabricated buildings shipped from Europe. As the labour force grows, the construction camps and other accommodation are being extended. In addition to accommodation buildings, stores, workshops, a temporary hospital and a garage were all erected and operating within four months.

Large quantities of explosives and accessories had necessarily to be brought in and stored at the outset of construction, and pending the building of the magazine to hold forty tons on shore the explosives were accommodated in existing buildings on Square Island.

In the five months from November 1952 to March 1953, 40,000 tons of equipment and materials poured into Aden, brought in 188 ships from the United Kingdom, Europe and America. At the same time 125 vessels carried a further 6,000 tons of materials and equipment for the harbour project. Off-loaded in Aden harbour on to barges, these cargoes were transported directly by water to the refinery site. This has created extra work for stevedores, but in no way has it disrupted the services of the port.

Complementary with work on the refinery site, dredging of the harbour was started in February. Two dredgers, one suction and one bucket, have worked almost continuously to lift enormous quantities of sand, which is being pumped ashore to form a reclaimed area on which port administration buildings and tankage will be erected. Barges, tugs and launches, some of which were sailed from Europe, while others have been hired from local firms, are all being used to complete the harbour project during 1954. Rock in an almost continuous stream of large trucks is pouring into the long bund that contains the reclaimed area and the breakwater which will shelter ships from the monsoon.

Aden harbour authorities have co-operated fully with the contractors building the refinery and oil harbour. One instance of their assistance was when a load of steel pipes accidentally slipped into deep water in the harbour. Underwater detection gear was lent by the harbour authorities and the piping was quickly located and raised with the assistance of Aden Port Trust divers and equipment rented from the Port Trust.

During the building of the refinery and the new port 230,000 tons of material and equipment will be landed at Aden. More the half of this will come from the United Kingdom, while Europe and America will provide most of the remainder. Approximately 100,000 tons will be steel, to be used in the refinery plants, storage tanks and jetties. Over 2,000,000ft. of pipeline, ranging in diameter from ½in. to 5ft., is to be laid. Nearly 20,000 tons of cement will be required to mix the 180,000 cu. yds. of concrete which will go into the construction of the refinery and port. Several million board feet of timber for concrete shuttering is to be imported, while over 2,000.000 cu. yds., of rock will be quarried for use in the construction of the bund wall, the breakwater, and other rubble mounds, and in mixing concrete. More than 5,000,000 cu. yds. of sand will be dredged from the harbour and pumped ashore.

In the multiple conductor cables carrying power, light and telephone communication through- out the area there will be about 2,500 miles of single strand wire. Bulldozers, trucks, cranes and many other types of mechanical equipment are already being used by the main contractors, Middle East Bechtel Corporation, and George Wimpey and Co., whose construction plant alone is valued at £3,500,000.

To use all of this equipment an army of workmen is being recruited, and at the peak period, about the end of this year, over 12,000 men will be working on the refinery and harbour. Throughout construction their number will average 7,000, but for the peak approximately 1,000 tons of food must be imported each month.

When completed, the refinery, with its various major and minor plants power station, and administration buildings, will cover about 140 acres. The tank farm will occupy about the same area and the reclaimed area at the oil port about 200 acres.

Major plant will include two atmospheric distillation units in which the crude oil is separated by distillation into its various components, motor sprit, naphtha, kerosene, gas oil, and diesel and fuel oils. Other plant will include a platforming unit, which improves the grade of motor spirit produced by the distillation units, and a sulphur dioxide extraction unit for improving the quality of kerosene. An autofining plant (an Anglo-lranian patent), into which the blended components of vaporizing oil are fed for sulphur removal, is also to be installed, together with a number of small treatment units. Provision will be made for expanding the refinery in the future.

A power station capable of generating over 20,000 kilowatts will provide electricity for the refinery and housing area, and the output of the boiler battery installed for providing steam for the power station and refinery will be 600,000lb. per hour.

Large quantities of cooling water are essential in a refinery and at Aden this water will be pumped from the sea at a rate of nearly four million gallons an hour. After circulation it will be returned through the latest type of oil/water separators, thus ensuing by all possible means that oil will not escape into the sea.

Fresh-water requirements for domestic and industrial purposes will amount to about one and three-quarter million gallons a day when the refinery is operating fully and the housing amenities are fully developed. Company drillers are sinking wells in the vicinity of Bir Ahmed, and fresh water is already flowing to the refinery site through a temporary 6in. line. Eventually a 12in. pipe-line will be laid to the refinery. Municipal water storage tanks will be situated on the hills to the north-west of the refinery. Fresh water for boiler feed requirements will be taken from evaporators, which will be fed from the sea.

From the refinery, products will be pumped to the tank farm, where the storage tanks will be of all-welded construction. Those for motor sprit, kerosene and crude oil storage will be fitted with floating roofs, which eliminate the air space between the liquid level and the tank top, thus reducing losses due to evaporation and preventing the accumulation of explosive vapours.

The oil harbour to serve the refinery is to be sited on the eastern shore of the rocky promontory of Little Aden, approximately six miles by water and twenty-eight miles by road from Aden.

The main works involved in the construction of the harbour are:

A breakwater and a bund. The area enclosed by these will be filled with sand dredged in deepening the harbour and its approaches, and on it will ultimately be sited the port buildings and tankage.

Dredging of the harbour and its approaches to depths of 40ft.| and 38ft. respectively at low tide.

The construction of four oil berths and miscellaneous tug and lighter berths.

The total length of the breakwater is approximately 3,700ft. and of the bund 9,000ft. They are being constructed of rock tipped into the sea, which at the end of the breakwater has a depth of 28ft. Approximately 1,200,000 cu. yds. of rock will have to be quarried to provide the necessary material, much of which is being tipped straight into position from large dump trucks. Both the breakwater and bund will be armoured with blocks of rock, some of which individually weigh as much as 8 tons, and a heavy concrete wave wall is to surmount the breakwater once the armouring has been placed in position by cranes. Rock for the project is being obtained from quarries which have been developed nearby on shore.

The oil jetties will comprise one two-berth finger jetty and two one-berth T-head jetties, all designed to take the largest modern tankers of 32,000 d.w. tons. At the roots of the jetties, galleys and smoke rooms are to be built for the use of the ships' crews. When the refinery is commissioned, two tugs, one fitted as a fire float, will handle shipping, while several company launches and a dredger will be based at the harbour.

Government development works planned for Little Aden peninsula include a permanent high level road bridge over the Khor Bir Ahmed that will reduce the road distance from Little Aden to Aden by about eight miles. A temporary pontoon bridge is being erected immediately so that vehicles carrying construction equipment may also obtain the benefit of this reduced mileage. Two sections of this pontoon bridge will be removed to provide a navigation gap for traffic to proceed to and from the Little Aden Salt Works.

The travelling time by road from Little Aden to Aden is being further reduced by a causeway to be built across the Aden Inner Harbour. The road on this causeway will by-pass Khormaksar airfield, where at present traffic is brought to a halt whenever planes are taking off or landing.