CEO of APM Terminal in Bahrain
The international leading consultancy firm, Global Gulf Consulting, has interviewed Mr. Marco Neelsen, CEO of APM Terminals in Bahrain as part of their ambitious production FindMe in Bahrain, a mobile application that will broadcast globally both business and leisure updates about Bahrain at the reach of anyone´s fingertips. In collaboration with the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) FindMe in Bahrain will be released in the first quarter of 2013.
Q. When you were offered the position to come to Bahrain, what were your expectations and how has the experienced developed so far?
A. Bahrain was a very interesting proposition for two main reasons. It is a one-stop shop, not a pure container terminal like the previous ones I have worked in. We also do general cargo and we provide marine services such as pilotage and towage to other companies in Bahrain like ALBA or BAPCO. We do the entire portfolio and my job is to overlook that it all works smoothly. The second reason that attracted me was the fact that the port has a great value proposition and growing opportunities. Apart from that, I like the Middle East and so does my family. Bahrain is just a great place to live and I appreciate the fact it managed to develop this far whilst keeping in touch with its history and tradition.
Q. The fact that the Port did not close for a day despite the difficulties during the uprisings has become an achievement. However, we assume that there was an impact on trade. How is the port performance now?
A. At the moment we are exceeding expectations. We see a strong recovery in 2012 especially from quarter two onwards in two main sectors: containerised and general cargo. In volumes we are talking of a 10 to 12 percent increase, which means that more consumables are coming to the country; more money is floating and there are also new projects by various governmental stakeholders and private investors. We have a lot of bulk cargo coming into the country, from construction materials up to support equipment, e.g. generators.
In fact, we are a very strong indicator of the economic performance of the country in general and especially with regards to trade. We see a very positive trend through the network of organisations in the country such as EDB, Bahrain Logistics Zone and Bahrain International Investment Park and the outlook for 2013 remains positive. There are some interesting deals signed in Bahrain. Some companies have already set up factories here or are in the process of establishing new ones to produce for the Gulf market but also for the US market thanks to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) of Bahrain with the United States that positions the country as a more attractive place to be than others in the GCC.
Q. Although there is space for further expansion of the port, the operations capacity stands at 1.0 million TEUs. What is the current performance?
A. We are working at almost 50 percent utilisation of the port so there still is room to improve. However, what makes us stand out from the rest of the crowd is that if we feel we need an increase in the capacity of the terminal we can relatively simply add additional equipment/superstructure within 6 to 18 months because the yard space and infrastructure can support an expansion up to 2.5 million TEUs.
Q. There is two main infrastructure projects in the pipeline that will definitely increase Bahrain´s trade: the expansion of King Fahd Causeway and the construction Qatar Bahrain Causeway, the so-called Friendship Bridge. What will be the real effects on the operations of the port?
A. Definitely it will affect trade and consequently will increase the movements of goods through the port. But there is a similar great project that you haven´t mentioned: the railway project. It will connect Bahrain into Saudi Arabia and into Qatar and will position us as a well functioning port and the preferable gate for these countries. Especially if you look into Qatar or Saudi Arabia that are growing in double digits and have ambitious plans. Bahrain is a small place compared to Saudi Arabia and even compared to Qatar so we don´t want to be seen and see ourselves as a direct competitor but preferable as a well run facility, well-connected through causeways and railways that can stimulate trade between the countries and oversees
Q. What are your main markets and your competitive edge against the other ports in the region?
A. We are focused in the upper Gulf region, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, etc, and therefore we are not seeing the big Terminals of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as direct competition. . Our competitive edge definitely is our geographic location and the trade friendliness of the country. Bahrain has a history of traders that goes well back in centuries. So it is not the size, it is not the oil, it is the trading mindset.
Q. One of the main pillars of Bahrain´s Vision 2030 is transforming the country into a logistics hub and there are several projects in line to achieve this goal such as the expansion of the airport, the logistics zones, the network of roads. Is there still anything missing?
A. One of the most important things is interconnectivity with the airport because if that fails then concepts like e.g. a sea-air transport will not work. So the first thing is to make sure that we are all interconnected, through proper and sufficient infrastructure which includes the previous mentioned railway connection from the port into neighbouring countries. And the other one is a proper automated communication platform between all parties and stakeholders in the sector from traders to customs to make sure that we all communicate easy and paperless with each other.
Q. Since the handover of the Port from the General Organisation of Sea Ports, what are the major obstacles that you have faced?
A. We are a brand new facility and so we have not faced any problems. We are overall very satisfied. We have been running KBSP three years and a half now and we have been a total of 6 years since we were running Mina Salman Port before the handover and we have an excellent relation with the GOP, the port authority. We have a unified strategy serving the local market but also positioning Bahrain as a hub for the upper Gulf Region and especially for Saudi cargo.
Saudi Arabia is definitely a very interesting proposition and Iraq as well. We see definitely opportunities in the market not only geographically but also from a commercial aspect to position ourselves. We are in the middle, only 16 hours to Dubai, 16 hours to Kuwait, etc…
Q. What would you consider the main benefits that APM management brings to Khalifa bin Salman Port?
A. Our global recognition, our values, our name and our experience. Except for Australia we are all across the globe in various set ups and we are one of the recognised top four port operators. We have around 60 terminals plus inland facilities supporting logistics and trade in various countries..
Bahrain is a small country with limited population and the port management is a very specialised type of work. It would have been difficult to find locally 100% the right people for our needs. So the proposition we offer as well is the training and development of young local talents in all sectors and on all levels of the company.
In fact, in only three years of operations, 83 percent of our 520 employees are Bahrainis. Then we have around 100 expat staff across all functions of the terminal, from management to technicians or drivers. One of our main tasks is training and developing the local talent while making sure the operation remains efficient.
Q. Are there any projects in the pipeline?
A. We would like to get more involved into e-sourcing and e-commerce so we can offer our customers and consignees e.g. on-line payments, reservations, track and trace their cargo etc…. . This is a project we are working on and that we are hoping to come on line by the end of the year, beginning of 2013, which will have a trial phase until it is fully operational.
We also want to promote Bahrain especially towards transhipment cargo into Saudi-Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait and we want to ink our name on this.
A continuous project is the improvement of our safety measures as we are growing our operations. We have up to a 1,000 people coming everyday to the terminal and we need to make sure that they are all safe and secure. We need to do the right training, get the right mind-set and not under estimate the safety measures. It is a young industry and we are all still learning. However, we are proud to say that we have celebrated more than 400 days without a LTI (lost time Incidents) in the terminal.
Q. What would you describe as your main challenge in the coming years?
A. If I knew it now, I would prepare for it. So I think I need to be prepared for the unprepared. We have a very positive challenge, which is the current volume. We need to keep up to our high level of efficiency and look a little bit into ourselves to transform the company and the people for the future ahead of us.
The volume we are experiencing at the moment is something fairly unknown to the company. It is a new experience for all of us. 2011 was fairly slow and now we are rocketing.
Q. So, in short what is APM Terminals Bahrain?
APM Terminals Bahrain is a valuable proposition to the country itself and to the trade in the country. We are a part of the community, a big employer and definitely a regional set up stimulating and facilitating trade with our neighbouring countries.
Our latest investment report on Kuwait was recently published in one of the leading Spanish dailies, ABC. FindMe in Kuwait explores the economic perspectives of Kuwait and the country´s future plans to compete with its fast developing neighbours. Once the leading country of the Gulf, Kuwait has remained silent for the past decade. And although many would like to see faster changes, Kuwait is moving, at its pace, to them. Inexorably. Learn about who is who in Kuwait and read what the leaders say about their own future in our upcoming release: FindMe in Kuwait Mobile app.
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Global Gulf Consulting has concluded its latest production on Bahrain, FindMe in Bahrain giving the country a fresh approach after a couple of difficult years of local demonstrations that matched the global recession. Bahrain is a small island in the Arabian Gulf with an incredible potential for logistics, industries and tourism. FindMe in Bahrain was supported by both the public and private sector of Bahrain. Banagas, Nass Corporation, BBK and DHL were GGC strategic partners in the development of the series among others.
FindMe in Bahrain is available at the local bookstores Jashamal and online as well as in the Apple Store. It is a full business leisure and business guide for any investor or visitor interested in traveling to Bahrain or for those that already live there.
FindMe in Saudi offers a multi-faceted overview combining business and leisure, economy and heritage. The book aims to capture the current development of Saudi Arabia in the words of the people who live and work there. It is an authoritative source of information for investors, businessmen and travellers produced to firmly position KSA as an attractive investment destination.
In contains general information about the country´ economic performance and who is who as a sectorial overview and a leisure guide.
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