What have been some of the major developments over the past year?
MARK HARDIMAN We have to divide Port of Salalah into two main segments: general cargo and containers. In terms of containers, Port of Salalah handled record volumes in 2020, with 4.3 million TEUs. Early on in the pandemic, we established our clear priorities, namely always ensuring our people are kept safe, supply chains are not disrupted, and that the business was sustainable, i.e. that we get paid on time and that we pay our suppliers and staff on time as well. On the general cargo side, dry bulk cargo exports, namely gypsum and limestone, are our mainstay. COVID-19 related challenges in the importing markets, mostly in the middle of the year, meant we did not achieve our volume targets; however, recovery in 4Q2020 meant we came close, which was impressive.
REGGY VERMEULEN Over the last year, our major activity was supporting all the cargo that was bound for the construction refinery. The construction of the refinery is going well despite the delays caused by COVID-19. The new administration of Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones (OPAZ) has been putting in great effort to break down silos between the major organizations working in Duqm—the refineries, the housing part, and the logistics—to ensure we communicate well together and make the operations at the SEZ smoother. The only thing that remains is the delivery of the equipment for our container terminal, though we are already operating container vessels through our mobile harbor cranes. The rest has all been project cargo, exports of minerals, and containerized cargo, and we have properly channeled them all.
How important is it to continue investing in modernizing the infrastructure of the port?
MH Businesses the size of ours require continuous investment on all fronts, and there definitely are expansion plans, as our business is growing. We are in discussions with the government as well about how we do this together because we are a public-private partnership. A big theme that we are embracing more of is digital, for example blockchain technology. We are also busy investing significantly in internal digitalization as well, by retrofitting many of our assets to make ourselves more efficient. There is also a whole piece on our more customer-facing aspects—including our webpage, issue resolution, and services offered to customers.
RV The port business is at an early stage in its digital transformation, though we are buying equipment that are automatable or even sometimes automated already. The logistics world is supported by efficient software of traceability, and we embrace that. In terms of operation, the port is still extremely manual and conventional, so it will take some time. There are some semi or fully automated terminals in the region, though they are not the norm. You might have a business case to automate an extremely busy terminal, though not for a medium or normally busy terminal.
What is your assessment of the current state of the maritime in Oman?
MH Oman is already a global hub on an international scale. Salalah is the second-largest hub in the region and around 50th in the world in terms of container volume throughout. We are also the world's leading exporter of gypsum. We need to continue to capitalize heavily on our geographical location and proximity to key markets. We will continue to work closely with the government, which has a clear logistics vision for the future. Diversification of the economy is central to the 2040 Vision, with logistics being a key sector, and we need to make sure we maintain that position and capture more commercial opportunities.
What are your main objectives for the next few years?
RV Our main objectives for 2021 is to reinforce fisheries, oil and gas, minerals, and the industry in and around Duqm. At the same time, we are preparing the container hubbing function and coping with the tail of the COVID-19 crisis. We have four ambitious goals: to be an industrial port; export all the minerals from around the region; play a significant role in hubbing the upstream oil and gas industry cargo; and develop the fishery business. Another priority, perhaps for 2022 or 2023 when we have the equipment, will be to do container transshipment. There are players looking to transship, and Duqm can be an option for them.