The chief executive of Sharjah-based container terminal operator, Gulftainer, is urging industry players to seize the opportunity to strengthen collaboration to take full advantage of improving market fundamentals.
In an exclusive interview with The Maritime Standard, Peter Richards, says, “The maritime industry has witnessed a great number of challenges, from the overcapacity of vessels, caused by the slow growth in global trade, to ever-changing alliances. Low energy prices, in addition to political instability in the Middle East and Europe, have also adversely impacted the sector. However, there is potential to transform these challenges into opportunities. The key lies in greater collaboration and stronger synergies. Within the UAE, the starting point for collaboration is initiating dialogue among industry players.”
He points out that such dialogue in the shipping industry has traditionally been relatively limited, and the relationship between port operators has been based on positive co-existence rather than meaningful cooperation. He continues, “At Gulftainer, we believe dialogue can pave the way for stakeholders to collectively solve some of the issues that plague the region’s maritime and logistics industry. In fact, we held an event to discuss such issues, when we co-hosted the Sharjah Business Summit with key local government entities. The event brought together government representatives and industry professionals to spotlight innovative supply chain solutions. Such events, which serve as collaborative platforms, can encourage the sharing of practices and innovation strategies, and subsequently, amplify the impact of existing initiatives.”
One of the catalysts for collaboration, and a project that could be a real ‘game changer’ for the region is Etihad Rail. A key element within UAE vision 2021, investment in an integrated rail network for freight and passengers is likely to redefine logistics and transport in the region connecting the UAE to its neighbouring GCC countries.
Mr Richards says, “Etihad Rail’s efforts will deliver significant economic benefits, including freight cost savings, business travel time savings and numerous other economic advantages, which we plan to capitalise on. Long distance container movements by rail can be complemented by our subsidiary Momentum Logistics’ fleet of trucks and its well-connected inter-city road network.”
It is also clear that the UAE will stand to benefit from being at the centre of China’s $900 billion One Belt, One eRoad initiative. Mr Richards adds, “The government’s vision and openness in encouraging trade and creating a conducive business ecosystem have made Sharjah a prominent business hub in the Gulf region. With its well-developed connectivity and trade capabilities, we will see renewed growth from the One Belt, One Road initiative.”
He continues, “The OBOR project calls for the revival of old trade routes, but under a new paradigm of innovation and collaboration. This directly aligns with our achievements across Gulftainer’s portfolio, where we have been able to successfully develop brownfield projects to deliver highly profitable container terminals, including in the Middle East and North America. We are now closely monitoring opportunities to acquire additional port concessions in markets across the new silk route.”
Mr Richards says he detects a number of key trends within the ports, shipping and logistics sectors at the moment, including a focus on integrated solutions that align with Gulftainer’s over-arching strategy. “These have massive potential for industry growth,” he suggests. “For instance, we are likely to witness developments that link e-commerce expertise with the logistics supply chain. As I mentioned earlier, partnerships and collaborations are also likely to feature more frequently in this fast-moving ecosystem, with a greater focus on digital solutions.”
The use of new technology is certainly playing a greater role in the maritime industry as shipping companies, along with port operators, realise its potential. “This presents new opportunities for maritime innovations whether it is in digitisation or data analytics. Technology developments are bringing in greater transparency when it comes to goods in transit and increasing overall efficiency in the supply chain,” says Mr Richards.
Gulftainer plans to make collaboration, innovation and investing in innovating a continuous process within the rapidly evolving market landscape that it operates in today. For instance, Mr Richards reports that Momentum Logistics recently held high-level discussions with the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) to explore solutions for streamlining the movement of goods between ports and free zones in the UAE. “They discussed the prospect of introducing a system equivalent to the TIR Carnet for the UAE’s ports and free zones with the objective of facilitating trade processes,” he reveals. “The move will enable companies to transport bonded cargo between national ports and free zones without the imposition of a security deposit, helping to accelerate the movement of goods, as well as reduce the administrative and financial burden on each stakeholder.”
In addition, GSCCO, Gulftainer’s Saudi-based subsidiary, is currently running a pilot programme with the Saudi Port Authority to develop a single payment facility which will handle all transactions. This is designed to ensure a single, efficient process to service importers and help them use ports in Saudi Arabia as a gateway to local markets as well as eventually the entire GCC region.
“This initiative will decrease cargo and container turnaround times”, says Mr Richards.” It reflects the principal aim of Gulftainer, which is to use the latest innovations to facilitate a quicker turnaround, resulting in a more user-friendly and efficient port management system in all our facilities.”