Port of call
When your competition includes some of the best ports in the world, standing up to rival players is no easy task. CEO Gary Lemke tells us how the Port of Salalah makes it look like plain sailing.
The Sultanate of Oman is a country rich in maritime history, with a seafaring tradition dating over 4000 years.
Housing some important monuments with roots in Quranic history, the ancient city of Salalah and the ruins of the fortified town of Sumharam, a port city that controlled the thriving maritime trade of frankincense back from 100BC to 400AD, remain close by.
The port is actually located 15km south of Salalah, in Dhofar in southern Oman.
The Sultanate borders with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the west, the Republic of Yemen to the south, the Straits of Hormuz to the north and the Arabian Sea to the east.
Its geographical location makes it an ideal gateway for the main shipping routes between Asia and Europe, as well as the Middle East.
"The Port of Salalah is one of the fastest-growing terminals in the West Central Asia region. Its strategic location on the direct shipping lane between Europe and the Far East provides easy access to the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the East African Coast," elaborates Gary Lemke, CEO for the Port of Salalah.
"For vessels serving the Gulf region and the Asia/Europe shipping lane, using the port as a relay hub affords significant time savings over many other ports in the region."
As a deepwater port, the Port of Salalah can accommodate large vessels up to 16m draft, making it the main container transhipment terminal in the region.
The port recorded 1000 cargo vessel calls in 2007, handling around 2.6 million TEU.
This represents a 10% increase on the previous year and with figures for the January to May period of this year already reaching 1.27 million, the outlook for 2008 is very promising.
The port is actually partly owned by the global container terminal giant, APM Terminals, owner and operator of more than 50 terminals spanning across 31 countries.
"APM Terminals is a 30% shareholder and is managing the operation," explains Lemke.
Having such a major benefactor has paid many dividends for the Port of Salalah.
"It naturally adds a lot of value for a port like ours to be a part of a global network such as that of APM Terminals," he emphasises.
"Our partnership gives us immediate access to best practices from some of the world's most successful terminals as well as to some of the most professional and skillful people in the industry."
APM Terminals' own service motto focuses on 'redefining terminal operations' through innovation, customer service, efficiency and productivity, and a commitment to excellence. When it comes to these factors, the Port of Salalah is already ticking all the boxes.
"We are at the forefront when it comes to innovation and port development in many areas," says Lemke proudly.
Earlier this year, the port was one of the first in the world to adopt the Cavotec Moormaster system, a vacuum-based approach to vessel mooring that negates the need for mooring lines.
"The port has worked closely with Cavotec on the installation of a new Moormaster system that eliminates vessel surge. This reduces loading and discharge time considerably, to both our customers' and our benefit," he explains.
The benefits of the system include faster berthing, vessel departure and cost savings in tugs, pilots and mooring lines.
The new system is also ecologically beneficial, as tugs alongside during surge conditions and vessel engines are not required.
Another important feature of the Moormaster system is the safety value it offers by not exposing long-shore workers to the dangers of snapped mooring lines.
Protecting the safety of its workers overall is a high priority for both the Port of Salalah and for Lemke personally as its head; the port confidently reported a 40% improvement to its safety records over the last year and Lemke himself takes a 'zero tolerance' approach to accidents.
"We have adopted the global safety programme of APM Terminals called Ã¢â‚¬ËœSafety for Life'," he says.
"All staff in our organisation are committed to safety and have each developed a personal safety plan containing personal action items which will enhance safety in our organisation.
In the port we have dedicated safety staff on site to constantly monitor and improve safety performance."
Last year saw the port participating in the APM Terminals Ã¢â‚¬ËœGlobal Safety Day', where port operations paused for 30 minutes to engage staff in discussions on ensuring safer operations.
Clearly, the investment in its workers has played an integral role in the port's success.
The Port of Salalah has been active in delivering training to its employees and partners on all aspects of effective operations.
"We have recently built a new training centre to reflect our aim to be a responsible corporation, merging the company's needs with the community's expectations," explains Lemke.
"We aspire to continuously develop and enhance the skills of our employees by providing own training programmes as well as those available through A P Moller-Maersk and APM Terminals."
Last year, the port hosted the first Ã¢â‚¬ËœPort Operations Basic Awareness' course for registered shipping agents and has been using the latest technology to develop further equipment training.
"The Port of Salalah was the first container terminal in the region to introduce the Crane Simulator, developed to train new crane operators without reducing the port's efficiency," Lemke observes.
Crane operations have now become a vital part of the upgrading of the port's handling equipment. "We have eight Super Post-Panamax cranes on order, four with delivery in November 2008 and another four with delivery in the second quarter of 2009," says Lemke.
"The eight new cranes, together with 17 cranes we already have, will bring the port's annual capacity to six million TEU." With the ability to reach containers stacked 23 across on deck, the new cranes are suited to operating the largest vessels in the world.
The cranes are housed in the Port of Salalah's six mainline container berths. Larger vessels can be accommodated through the port's two newest 18m depth berths, which are served by a new approach channel with an 800m diameter turning circle.
The fifth deepwater berth opened in May last year, followed by the completion of the sixth this year.
As a result of these expansions, the annual throughput capacity of the port has grown from 2.5 million TEU in 2006 to 4.5 million TEU in 2008.
"The key factor was the delivery of four new Super Post-Panamax cranes in the fourth quarter of 2006 and the opening of the fifth deepwater berth in May 2007. The opening of our berth 6 this year is expected to generate continued growth for 2008," Lemke explains.
Earlier this year, the Government of Oman signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the port for the construction of a further three container berths.
With a total length of 1350m and water depth reaching 18m, the berths will be equipped with 15 more Super Post-Panamax gantry cranes.
Port of Salalah's investment in innovation, efficiency and improving productivity has been crucial to cope with both the demands on its services and to meet the needs of its customers, old and new.
Maersk Line, Safmarine and APL have been the three main customers for the port - with a new agreement with MSC signed this year.
The CEO himself has remained both optimistic and pragmatic in light of the port's impressive growth.
Taking the helm of chief executive officer from Tiemen Meester in September last year, his rule as CEO is still relatively fresh.
However, Lemke has been with the port as chief operating officer since 2005, and comes with the wisdom of a 19-year operational career in the industry.
With a combination of great leadership, long-term investment and vision, the port looks set for a great future. "The Port of Salalah is a dynamic port with constant growth. With our growth strategy, we have to constantly focus on preparing for the future and creating capacity ahead," Lemke stresses.
"This has put us in a favourable position, and allowed us to welcome new customers, as well as further improving our services."
Against the backdrop of Oman's continued growth, and under the watchful eye of APM Terminals, Port of Salalah looks set to continue the great Omani maritime heritage and be the pride of the country for many years to come.