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Interview

Captain Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi – CEO, Abu Dhabi Ports, UAE

Captain Mohamed Al Shamisi, CEO of Abu Dhabi Ports, discusses his ‘One Port Strategy’ for Abu Dhabi Ports; their fundamental goal to be the best ‘maritime trade enablers’, not just for Abu Dhabi but nationally and internationally; and key examples of their continuing commitment to developing innovative solutions to meet the needs of various industries and companies.

Abu Dhabi Ports was established in 2006, and since then, has shown impressive growth despite the global financial crisis in 2008. You have been heading Abu Dhabi Ports since 2013. What have been some of your key priorities since taking over leadership?

In the past decade, Abu Dhabi Ports has had an impressive growth trajectory, most notably sustaining double-digit growth since the 2008 financial crisis, which is a testament not only to our own strength but also to the strength and resilience of the economy of Abu Dhabi. We directly support the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, set by our leadership, specifically when it comes to diversifying away from oil and gas dependency.

Fundamentally, we are committed to a “One Port Strategy”, where all ports are working side by side to support the economy of Abu Dhabi.

Fundamentally, we are committed to a “One Port Strategy”, where all ports are working side by side to support the economy of Abu Dhabi. When we developed Khalifa Port, growth in the Emirate was so rapid that we realised by the time we would launch, despite being a major port, Khalifa Port would be unable to cover the substantial demand in Abu Dhabi on its own. As a result, we decided to shift certain industries or commodities to various ports in Abu Dhabi, reserving Khalifa Port for containers and Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo).

The construction of Khalifa Port was one of our biggest achievements. Prior to becoming CEO, I was in charge of the ports and my first priority was to establish Khalifa Port while running the operations of the rest of the ports, which are also extremely important to Abu Dhabi’s development. Zayed Port -for example- has served Abu Dhabi for more than 42 years.

This success is very important for two reasons: first, Khalifa Port will help sustain the growth of Abu Dhabi, and second, it will support the growth of the neighbouring Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad), one of the major industrial zones in the region.

Abu Dhabi Ports has been a part of some of the most ambitious projects here in the UAE. What are the main factors contributing to their – and Abu Dhabi Ports’ overall – success?

One of the biggest factors contributing to their success is the integration between Khalifa Port and Kizad, in what we believe to be a kind of ‘plug and play’ model, which is a huge benefit to our investors. We encourage our investors to go visit Khalifa Port and Kizad and see that the infrastructure is already there, not planned on paper. In some other parts of the world, you often hear a lot about plans for massive projects, only to find out they will take years to complete.

We also offer large plots of land, and that’s valuable because not only is Abu Dhabi Ports growing fast, the whole country is. Many businesses once established cannot expand, which may require shifting to different locations. What we have provided in Kizad is a place where all of their businesses and factories can be consolidated in one location.

Another factor is the competitive utility costs, which are lower in Abu Dhabi, compared to the region, and also easier to access, thanks to the integration I mentioned earlier. Additionally, the deep water port can cater to all sizes of ships sailing the world today, greatly benefitting factories set up in Kizad.

The last point is that we offer lots of tailor-made options for our investors, in terms of lands, warehouses and offices, we offer free zone and non-free zone solutions, bonded, non-bonded, covering all potential investors – small, medium and large.

Innovation is key to the continued success of Abu Dhabi Ports, evidenced by Maqta Gateway, which aims to be an innovative port community that will simplify the flow of information from all parties involved. What other types of innovations and technological advancements have been introduced for the continued growth of Abu Dhabi Ports?

We invest heavily in technology, Khalifa Port being the most advanced in terms of automation, not only in our region, but across Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

However, it is not simply about automation in the terminal, it is about creating a chain of automation. That is why we are investing in Maqta Gateway, which is an umbrella under which many systems function, including customs, food control, terminal operators, marine service operators, shipping lines, freight forwarders and logistic companies. All of these automated systems will then be integrated into one overarching system, the Maqta Gateway, a single platform through which clients can access all of the services.

Additionally, we are advancing the systems in our ports. For instance, the Vessel Tracking System (VTS) has been centralised in Khalifa port to cover all ports across Abu Dhabi. Usually, each port operates its own VTS; but through our investment, we have centralised all of the ports into one location, which creates a single point of contact. This is beneficial not only to investors but also to us in terms of management implication.

Another example of innovation is what we have named the hot metal corridor, which enables the transport of aluminium in a molten liquid form from Emirates Global Aluminium to the mid and downstream aluminium industries. This saves energy because there is no need to cool the aluminium for transport and then reheat it afterwards.

In Abu Dhabi, you are transitioning away from a hydrocarbon based economy to a more knowledge based economy. However, oil and gas is still a pillar of the economy. How important of a sector is oil and gas to Abu Dhabi Ports?

Abu Dhabi has always been committed to diversifying its economy, but that does not mean we will ignore the oil and gas industry. Rather we need to support it. Through our facilities in Zayed Port, Free Port and the Western Region Ports, we mainly support the oil and gas businesses, exploration and maintenance. We provide a base for the major companies working in the development of oil and gas, both in our facilities in Zayed Port and the Free Port, to support the offshore business as well.

To support the oil and gas industry, you also need to be close to them geographically, so our position in Abu Dhabi is extremely strategic. We have attracted international companies to be located within Kizad. We recently signed agreements with both Wintershall and Dolphin Energy and we are always open to new partnerships.

We have also innovated our ways to better cater to the needs of the oil and gas industry. For instance, we have developed what we call a modular path to deal with the maintenance and fabrication of oversized pieces. This has always been a challenge. Our innovations have now enabled the transfer of oversized pieces or units from Kizad all the way to the ports, without any height restriction.

You work for a variety of different industries and emphasise your innovation and commitment to catering to each industry’s unique requirements. How do you maintain this commitment to the needs of individual industries with the resource constraints as just a single entity in Abu Dhabi?

We consider ourselves to be maritime trade business enablers, and we take this both seriously and literally. In the ports, in Kizad, in marine services, we are maritime trade business enablers, with Maqta Gateway supporting this entire paradigm. So for example in Kizad we don’t focus on factories or industries that do not require a major port to support their operations.

Jebel Ali Port, located in Dubai, completed an expansion on Terminal 3 last year. What plans for expansion in terms of size does Abu Dhabi Ports have, and how do you differentiate yourselves from competition located so close?

We see ourselves as complementing Jebel Ali, not competing against it. We are located not too far from each other but Jebel Ali supports the JAFZA area, while we support the industries in Kizad and beyond, including the other Emirates.

Although container ships are a main source of business for Abu Dhabi Ports, they are not our only source, and we are not fixated on one line of business. Rather we focus also on RoRo, bulk, break bulk, and many other types of commodities to cater to our clients’ different demands. We do our business differently than others in the region; we are maritime trade business enablers. With Emirates Global Aluminium, for example, all of their imports come through us. This is because we want to serve them, and we handle their products at every stage, from finished products leaving the cast house to trucking, stowage and transfer to ships. We service our clients from A-Z.

Personally, what is your vision for Abu Dhabi Ports?

Simply put: we want to be the best, providing the best services to our clients. We continually benchmark our operations against the best in the world, across the wide spectrum of activities and industries we manage: industrial zones, free zones, marine services, the ports, as well as maintenance of the buoys and beacons in Abu Dhabi and beyond.

We will always strive to be the best maritime trade enablers. We have undoubtedly been very successful, but we will continue to build upon this success.

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