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Events Logistics News

Event Review: Breakbulk Middle East

Experts from Abu Dhabi Ports, Agility Logistics, Bahri Logistics, and GAC give their insights on the current market trends in the breakbulk sector.

Held from 6-7 February at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, Breakbulk Middle East 2018 focused on the challenges and opportunities in the region’s project logistics and breakbulk sector.

The event saw 70 exhibitors, representing the end-to-end value chain for the transport of oversize cargo, as well as 30 speakers and nearly 2000 attendees. In addition to the exhibition, the event offered educational seminars—all of which were free for attendees—as well as networking opportunities, including luncheons hosted by leading shippers.

Officially opening Breakbulk Middle East, Dr Eng Abdulla Salem Al Kathiri, director general of the Federal Authority for Land and Maritime Transport, said: “The UAE is one of the most developed maritime countries in the region both economically and commercially, providing an environment that has gained investor confidence and is able to support a diverse range of major business activities across the maritime sectors, in turn contributing to global confidence in the UAE economy.

“Our leadership believe in the importance of maritime transport as the most efficient way of delivering goods, as countries can rely heavily on them to facilitate trade and push towards prosperity. The establishment of such exhibitions in the shipping and maritime trade sectors is a very important time for us in the UAE and the region. We are delighted to host the third annual Middle East edition of the conference here in Abu Dhabi.”

Key topics of discussion for panel discussions and seminars included handling projects in post-conflict regions, the evolving supply chain, and online shipping platforms.

In attendance were a number of key suppliers, logistics providers, ports, and investors from around the region, including Abu Dhabi Ports, GAC, Agility, DP World, Bahri Logistics, King Abdullah Port, Al Faris, ASAS Transport, and Logistaas.

Abdulkareem Al Masabi

Abdulkareem Al Masabi, executive vice president, Ports, at Abu Dhabi Ports—the host port for the event— remarked: “Breakbulk Middle East brings the region’s foremost experts in the industry together with the leading shippers, carriers, freight forwarders, transport specialists, and related service providers to discuss opportunities and challenges in the specialised Breakbulk field.

“Breakbulk and the project cargo industry are vital to the infrastructure development that the UAE and governments across the region are delivering as they look to build more diverse and integrated economies. This industry plays a vital role in accomplishing the infrastructural development that governments in the GCC have envisioned.”

According to Al Masabi, the UAE is one of the top 20 countries in container port traffic, and its strategic location has enabled it to acquire the lion’s share in total container and cargo movement in the region at 60%. The UAE accounts for an estimated 30-35 % of total regional maritime sector investment at $66bn, with maritime and shipping trade industry accounting for 90% of the global trade market.

“Abu Dhabi Ports has achieved notable progress and growth in all its operations,” adds Al Masabi, “especially in the general cargo and bulk business sectors. Last year, we handled 18.628 million tonnes, the highest ever record since its inception in 2006. The CAGR of general cargo and bulk in the last five years is 70%, and this year is expected to be another record year.”

Al Masabi also believes that Expo 2020 will bring incredible opportunity to the country and its various economic sectors; and where there are opportunities, there is a need for the commodities that are classified as breakbulk cargo.

He comments: “The event is anticipated to bring in enhanced economic activity to the UAE, including construction and infrastructure growth, which again requires increased cargo. We look forward to the impact such events will have on our industry and welcome the challenge to expand horizons for the maritime sector and ourselves.”

Matthew Luckhurst

Matthew Luckhurst, vice-president— liner, at Bahri Logistics, too believes the upcoming development in the form of Expo 2020 and Saudi Vision 2030 will act as definitive propellers in the upward direction.

“Being the national carrier of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and the Gulf in particular are bright spots for us. We are very active in these parts, and we’re doing well. The next five to 10 years look very bright in terms of infrastructure, utilities, and other market segments.”

Bahri Logistics operates six multipurpose vessels with 26,000 DWT each on a regular liner schedule; four vessels connect the United States to Saudi Arabia and major ports in the Gulf, Indian Subcontinent and the Mediterranean, and two vessels connect Europe to Saudi Arabia and key ports in the Gulf and the Mediterranean. The business unit has signed cooperative agreements with partner carriers such as Höegh Autoliners, Liberty Global Logistics, and Rickmers-Linie, and has introduced full solution breakbulk capabilities, including door-to-door service.

“There’s two aspects here,” says Luckhurst, about Bahri’s presence at Breakbulk Middle East. “One is to showcase your capabilities, which is great for branding and positioning yourself in the market, so that people know who you are. Secondly, it’s to meet our customers, giving us a good chance to discuss opportunities, prospects, and issues. We love listening to our customers, which helps in our own internal planning, giving them best solutions at the end of the day.”

Agility, the gold sponsor at the event, is no stranger to the event; this was their third running year at Breakbulk Middle East. Mohammad Jaber, COO at Agility Abu Dhabi and regional director, project logistics for Middle East and Africa, and Bassel El Dabbagh, CEO at Agility Abu Dhabi, highlighted industry trends, and the rising need to adapt to technology changes.

(L) Bassel El Dabbagh and (R) Mohammad Jaber

Dabbagh remarks: “Breakbulk Middle East is essentially a dedicated event highlighting the processes and players involving breakbulk cargo, i.e., non-containerised cargo like that in the oil and gas industry, or infrastructure, construction, etc. It is a very important event, uniting logistics players like Agility with carriers and cargo owners.”

Jaber adds: “Agility has the largest footprint in Middle East and Africa when it comes to logistics. We are here as a market leader for the UAE, achieving more than 10 million freight tonne in cargo in the last decade, plus three million containers servicing the energy sector and infrastructure.

Tremendous development and all the government initiatives forces us to be a part of the GCC logistics system. We provide service is 100 countries, with 550 offices under the same umbrella and mindsets. In the last decade, we’ve provided service for nearly a 100 projects within just the GCC, and these were multi-billion projects, with clients like ADNOC, ZATCO, ATCO, and many more.”

Agility has recently begin a hub at Khalifa Port in Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD), spread out over 200,000sqm.

“As per Agility’s Emerging Market Logistics Index, UAE bagged third position after China and India,” mentions Jaber. “GCC has revealed nearly $288bn worth of capital expenditure, over the next five years. There is huge potential for logistics sectors in the region. As per our reports, there is 4.8% predicted growth in air freight, which also services oil and gas and energy sectors.”

Both Dabbagh and Jaber believe technology is impacting logistics, in the form of autonomous vehicles, warehousing and automation, and eCommerce and customer fulfillment supply chain.

“Involving the new generation in this industry is very important due to the rise of technology,” comments Jaber. “We try to employ fresh graduates via our training programme, to combine them with our experienced workforce and technology, thus meeting current time challenges.”

Agility Abu Dhabi is a part of a civil service programme, where the government has employed a number of people in Agility and its sister companies, to train them to understand and execute logistics in a modern way.

Dabbagh adds: “Since 2007, things really have changed. We’ve had to reskill, in a bid to adapt to market changes. Your employees need to be reskilled to learn how to work with new technology and to understand new ways of doing things. This is where our training programmes come in, to reskill our labour force.”

Jaber also believes that despite the introduction of VAT in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the market has continued to attract both local and foreign investors to the region. He mentions that hosting an event like the Expo 2020 will bring more opportunities; Agility is closely involved with construction companies to provide expert service when it comes to breakbulk.

Captain Per Thörnblom

Captain Per Thörnblom, group project logistics manager at GAC, discussed the completion of a challenging project by his team, where GAC transported an underwater restaurant from one location to another. The restaurant, complete with its 13m high stairwell, was moved to the brand-new resort of Hurawalhi in Maldives, from New Zealand.

“We were awarded the Project/Heavylift Forwarder of the Year, in the 2017 Global Freight Awards,” mentions Thörnblom. “It was indeed a real challenge shifting this restaurant, given how there was no jetty or berth on the tiny island of Hurawalhi. We initially carried out echo-sounding and seabed tests, following which we made 3D drawings and planned how we would lift the restaurant out. The loading of the restaurant for different types of ships and lashing calculations were simulated in our software. It took 26 days to transport it from New Zealand to Hurawalhi; I piloted the ship since we didn’t have any local pilots.

“Once there, we lifted the restaurant directly into the water, and set it in its place. The entire project took us a year and a half, from the owner approaching us for the task, to the final fixing of the restaurant into the seabed. From the builders to designers, we were quite a team.”

GAC offers key services in the breakbulk industry, from local canvassing and sales, to cargo and claims handling, and weather routing and performance management services.

“I don’t think the (breakbulk) market is doing as well as it should be,” says Thörnblom. “The impact of the worldwide economy downturn and the lack of infrastructure investments is being felt in this region, as well as all over the world.”