Industry captains map a course of action for their firms and the industry in general in a post-Covid scenario
“Our industry often prefers evolution over revolution”
Charles Menkhorst, Group CEO, Gulftainer
You’re known for seeking innovations and new technology. So, how do they shape your strategy?
Yes, innovation — and constant innovation at that — has been a big game changer for us, and we’re proud to have been based here in Sharjah for 45 years. We are a home-grown business gone global and are now proud to be a leading international, privately owned and independent port management and logistics company. Innovation and the latest tech are something we’re embracing with a bang — and are convinced that staying ahead of the curve will make all the difference.
Remember that we were the first container terminal out of the Middle East, and now we’ve expanded to running ports in four countries — the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the US. And in the US we were the first operator from the Middle East to operate ports there. And it was a natural progression to serve customers better, so we launched Momentum Logistics in 2008.
We know from 45 years of experience that if we don’t stay ahead of the ever-evolving supply chain ecosystem, we could lose a significant competitive advantage. That’s not on the cards.
About 85 per cent of supply chain leaders define innovation as “process improvements” or “business model innovation.” You don’t have to go far to see new and buzzworthy technologies such as drones and robotics being incorporated but we’ve also found that it pays to look at details — innovation for the supply chain is truly a continuum of small improvements that all add up to make a greater impact — whether it’s improving how we work or the overarching business model.
This was borne out when we held a detailed internal audit of our existing infrastructure. We saw some key themes around innovation that now form the centrepiece to our corporate strategy. One of the findings was to realise that innovation is not just catching up with emerging technologies. Crucially, it’s about a mindset change within the organisation. A knock-on advantage is that it promotes the breaking down of one or two silos across the group. True innovation and success can only happen when our people, from all sorts of different backgrounds, collaborate. So now, innovation plays a new and exciting role in our corporate culture at Gulftainer.
Last year, on the hunt for the next great innovation, we hit gold. We launched Future of Ports, a global talent hunt to promote innovation in ports and logistics. We had fantastic responses from all over the world and it ended in a virtual face-off. Ten top thinkers battled it out in an audience of 1,000 people online. And what’s more, four winners are jumping on board to work with us, and we reckon we’ll transform ports and logistics. Watch this space!
How can you get start-ups on board?
Our mindset is to open the doors for bright ideas. There’s been a sea change in the way the industry works. Our industry often prefers evolution over revolution; if there is an opportunity to enhance existing practices, that has the attention of every operator in the supply chain. The best way to get our attention is to give us solutions that can address a customer problem in the best way possible. It doesn’t always have to be groundbreaking and revolve around complex innovations. The benefits of engaging with start-ups are mainly two-fold — It facilitates collaboration that allows multiple specialists to come together and when we partner with start-ups, we can innovate at exponential speed.
“The maritime industry in the UAE is very strong and resilient”
Waleed Altamimi, General Manager, Tasneef
Elaborate on how Tasneef is helping Emirati graduates prep for a career in maritime services while highlighting the benefits of its special development programme for UAE nationals.
Tasneef has developed a special training programme for graduates in the engineering field who have zero knowledge of the maritime Industry. The programme starts with theoretical training in ship terminologies before moving to complex theoretical and practical classification activities. Tasneef not only developed a programme for university graduates, but also one for high school graduates so that inspectors are trained in less complicated fields such as the new job we are doing in cooperation with Abu Dhabi Maritime for the inspection of pleasure craft sand jet skies.
What are Tasneef’s takeaways from the pandemic, how resilient according to you is the UAE maritime industry in facing challenges brought on by Covid-19?
The pandemic proved that maritime transportation is vital for life to go on, as more than 90 per cent of goods are transported by sea. The maritime Industry in the UAE is very strong and resilient due to the great infrastructure available in the country and due to the active role played by different port authorities and flag administrations to overcome the pandemic restrictions.
The value attached to yachts by the rich and wealthy is acknowledged globally. As a key stakeholder in the certification process and Dubai a hub for yacht owners, what trends do you see in the superyachts sector?
The superyacht sector is growing every day as the number of rich people is increasing. Adding to that, the yachts proved to be a nice and safe way of escaping pandemic restrictions in the cities. The existing yachts manufacturers already oversold their production for a year in advance. Therefore, we are seeing more shipyards entering into yacht construction due to the high demand and profitability percentage. Tasneef already signed an agreement with Abu Dhabi Maritime to facilitate the certification of yachts business and registration. Dubai Maritime Authority are pioneers in this field and we hope to sign a strategic agreement with them to facilitate the yachting business in Dubai as well.
“Inchcape’s main assets are its people”
Matthew Paice, Vice-President Marine Services – MESAA, Inchcape
As an industry leader in the maritime sector, how do you see Inchcape’s 360-degree solutions package evolving in a post-Covid world?
Inchcape’s 360-degree package encompasses digital solutions within port and marine services, with built-in market intelligence engines and a smart pay solution. These state-of-the-art digital solutions enable us to be better placed to handle the requirements of a post-Covid world, which is expected to speed up the uptake of digital solutions.
We continue to focus on investing in technology to provide convenience, accuracy of data, and speed of response to our customers. Our internally developed port call management system provides levels of data and efficiency not previously available, all in near real-time. Our Regional Operations Centres provide our customers with a single point of contact and offer a global perspective while retaining local office knowledge.
What are the main challenges you foresee for shipping, ports and marine activity this year and the next and how is Inchcape planning to surmount it?
The unpredictability of the pandemic, and the reopening and closing of countries, will cause uncertainty in predicting work levels across the region. It will cause preferred crew change locations to move around, and agents will have to remain flexible enough to accommodate these fluctuations. Inchcape will be focusing on keeping its customers abreast of the ever-changing Covid-19 regulations and port information. It continues to be a tough time for crew, and we take responsibility for their safety and care. Next year is Inchcape’s 175th birthday — it has weathered many storms throughout its life, and it will continue to meet – and be strengthened by — these challenges.
How would you typify excellence in service delivery models in your field and how are you getting the brand to live up to these expectations?
Inchcape’s main assets are its people, and the difference between providing an excellent service or not begins and ends with the attitude of our people. We prioritize having a positive and inclusive work culture and making Inchcape’s brand not only synonymous with excellent service, but also being an excellent place to work. For example, our staff know that Inchcape will stand behind any employee who stands up for compliance and ethical behavior, no matter the impact on the company.
It is this type of business culture that translates into excellence for our customers.
“Our pro-active risk assessment and mitigation has proven effective”
Numair Shaikh, CEO, Tomini Group
It was a test by fire for the maritime sector as the pandemic raged these last two years. As an industry voice of note, what is the biggest challenge you faced during the lockdown while heading Tomini Shipping and how did you cross the hurdle?
Crewing became our biggest challenge when the pandemic initially began, as countries shut borders and put a complete stop to movement of people.
During a time when it was operationally impossible to do any crew change, we focused on being transparent and open with our crew as we worked to repatriate them back to their home countries in the face of numerous challenges. This helped to create trust and confidence. Our pro-active risk assessment and mitigation has proven effective and no Covid-19 case has been reported on Tomini Fleet.
What is the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing all about and how is it aiding frontline workers and seafaring staff in the long term?
The Neptune Declaration is an initiative driven by key stakeholders within shipping to raise awareness of the crewing crisis and set out a path to resolve it. It seeks to ensure that seafarers are recognised as key workers and are thus given priority and special consideration when it comes to things like immigration, repatriation, visas, vaccinations, and so on, essentially treating them with the respect and importance that they deserve.
Tomini actively checks around the globe for possibility of vaccination for seafarers aboard fleet vessels trading worldwide. Thus far crew members of four vessels (free of cost to seafarers) have been fully vaccinated (one shot of Johnson and Johnson) at various US ports.
Tomini Shipping expanded its bulk career fleet early last year. Has your growth trajectory been affected because of Covid, how do you choose to expand operations in a post-Covid world scenario in the next couple of years?
We have a history of timing our S&P activity counter-cyclically and Covid is no different! We have added 3 ships to our fleet in 2021 (1SMX, 1KMX and 1 Aframax) at very attractive prices and continue to be on the lookout for potential deals. This past year has shown the strength in the dry bulk sector and the supply and demand fundamentals are such that the next few years are tantalizingly set up for a very bullish run!
“We have been pushed to think about our online presence in bigger ways”
John W. Paul, General Manager, Exalto Emirates
How has business changed for Exalto during the pandemic and what adjustments did you make to your business strategy?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were all worried about how the industry would be affected and if we should pivot our business in a new direction. This led us to have many internal discussions about our business strategy and we made a firm resolution that we would double down on our business of being marine equipment distributors and become even better at it. Fortunately, in June 2020 the market picked up and we have been riding the wave ever since. We did use the time we spent working from home very wisely and we took a close look at how we operated and ended up improving many if not all of our internal processes, which is still ongoing, all with a focus on bringing customer value.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that Exalto and the marine parts and supplies industry face?
The challenge at the moment, which not only affects the marine industry but most likely the entire global supply chain, is the issues with components and raw materials supply. Many of our suppliers are facing delays in their manufacturing for not having sufficient components available, specifically electronic parts being affected. This has caused many delays in us getting materials and being able to supply on time. As a result we had to increase our own stock, keeping enough buffer stock, but as the situation is quite volatile this has not been easy. In addition the transit times for sea freight as well as the associated cost for freight in general have increased tremendously resulting in even longer delays and higher costs. This has really made operating in our industry a bit difficult but we are learning and improving in the process so we hope to be able to overcome these challenges soon.
What new technologies have been implemented at Exalto to ensure resilient business during the pandemic and beyond?
Besides the obvious way of having meetings online without having to drive or travel has made a big impact, more interesting is the realisation we have had that technology and especially online applications will only accelerate more and more which has pushed us to think about our online presence in bigger ways and we are now heavily investing in that part of our business along with thinking where else technology will have an impact and trying to be ahead of the curve. One of our core values is “We Learn” which implies for us that we are always looking for the most innovative products for our clients so the entire technological advances that we see all around us fit in very well with our thinking and we certainly try to take advantage of those.
“We offer the most competitive and strategic location”
Roger Clasquin, CEO, RAK Ports
Ras Al Khaimah Ports is an ideal operational hub for all types of industrial and manufacturing businesses, what advantages does it offer?
RAK Ports offers a unique group of specialised ports, each with its own resources and service offerings, suitable for a broad range of customers, vessels, and cargo types. Its unique structure means our customers will never experience delays due to a shortage of resources, and they enjoy faster vessel turnaround times. We offer the most competitive and strategic location, as the closest port to the Strait of Hormuz, directly at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf. RAK Ports operates a highly skilled, full-service professional marine services team to meet every customer need. Saqr Port is the largest bulk port in the Middle East; furthermore, it has the infrastructure necessary to act as an uncongested, strategic hub for the import and export of breakbulk and oversized project cargoes for the Emirates.
RAK Ports offers one of the most comprehensive and flexible range of services in the Middle East. What are some of the key services it offers?
We are undertaking a massive port development and expansion programme to create a new terminal facility, as an extension to our existing RAK Maritime City free zone. Uniquely, our free zone customers have direct access to quayside facilities, enabling them to secure large-scale, global projects that can be built in our free zone and then exported directly from Ras Al Khaimah. We offer our customers customised logistical solutions to accommodate their vessels at any of the four ports within the RAK Ports group. In the past, Saqr Port used to be completely a bulk port, however with increased efficiency and new deep-water berths we can now support maritime logistics for project cargoes, and the export of steel and bagged cement for example, as well as a dedicated container terminal.
Did you have to make Covid-19 related adjustments to your growth strategy? What were the challenges along the way?
Our many digitisation initiatives within RAK Ports were given an additional boost, and the non-physical exchange of documents was expanded to include customs, immigration, and other areas of cargo documentation. Our corporate structure allowed us to utilise skilled staff from other ports within the RAK Ports group to maintain full operations even with pandemic-related absences. Across all our departments, including Operations, Security, Administration, and Finance, we implemented segregated accommodation, dining facilities and shift patterns, to reduce the risk of transmission within one department. We upskilled our workforce to create more flexibility across specialist roles, for example stevedoring, rigging, and slinging, to cover for pandemic-related absences.