In what ways did you have to adapt your operations and remain resilient in the face of the pandemic?
There are five ports in the RAK Ports Group and each performs different functions. We have a bulk aggregate port (Saqr Port), private jetties for our tenants (RAK Maritime City Free Zone), one that does warehousing and layby for vessels (RAK (Khor) Port), a ship repair yard (Al Jazeera Port), and a marina & warehousing (Al Jeer Port). We have faced different challenges but because we have such a flexible workforce across those five ports and we were all under one management group we were able to move those people to support the activity needed at any one time. That is how we quite easily kept our business running well. We achieved our targets by the end of the year and even exceeded some of them. On top of that we were already in the process of upskilling some of our staff. We have also been going through a two-and-a-half year digitalization program. During the pandemic it took us two months to drop and two months to come back up in a “V" shape recovery, which we achieved by the end of the year.
In what ways have you made use of digital tools to innovate your operations and services?
We engaged several years ago with a company called Envision. It developed a new port terminal operation system for us that converted our Excel spreadsheets and manual documentation into a digital format. We can access live statistical data of what is happening from bulk cargo operations directly on the quay to seeing what appears in the new ops room. Saqr Port has developed a full new ops room with video walls and big screens along with the administration teams that are able to see what is happening on the ground on live CCTV. Also, our fleet and mobile harbor cranes feature a computer brain called a PLC that is now Wi-Fi linked to our ops room through our RUBUS System so we can track what is being loaded to ships and in what timeframe, as well as what cycle times those cranes are working in, where and when they are sat idle and ready for allocation to a different berth where needed. This amounts to a digital process that shows exactly what's happening on the ground from one central location. It has improved our efficiencies considerably.
How do you see RAK Ports contributing to the UAEs goal of positioning itself as a leading regional logistics hub?
My background for several decades is logistics and supply chain management, and here I am port manager and I understand the air, road and sea freight options around the globe as well as here in the UAE and Ras Al Khaimah. I personally think that the UAE does very well. We have a number of significant container terminals scattered throughout the UAE. The air freight hubs are second to none coming into any of the individual airports whether that be Dubai International, Abu Dhabi, or even DWC. With the sea and the air freight routes you are not going to get better anywhere else in the world. I think the challenge from that supply chain is the physical ships being able to transit around those different ports to be able to drop off their cargos. The cost of shipping has obviously significantly increased over this year as it did last year. Some the customers are struggling with being able to afford the supply chain, rather than it actually not being there. The UAE has the supply chain in place whereby ships, aircraft and road transport can call throughout the UAE. The road links are perfect from any of the industrial zones through to the Jebel Ali, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al Khaimah Ports.
Does Ras RAK Port also serve as an economic free zone?
Yes, we have our RAK Maritime City Free Zone facility, which is its own free zone authority. RAK Maritime City is an eight (8) million square meter plot that is made up of private tenants with direct access to quays and/or other industrial activities in the hinterland, and we use the freezone as a port, just the same as any other.
Has a particular strategy changed due to the pandemic regarding the use of the economic free zone to attract more investment and business opportunities to RAK?
Those investments and strategies were already there to encourage people to come into the free zones whether it be us (RAK Maritime City Free Zone, or the RAKEZ free zone. Certainly COVID-19 has not affected that development in either of those two economic zones and or the ports or the hinterland thereafter. I think it is all about the continued development of the ports and the economic strategies that will drive it forward.
How are you contributing to the reactivation of the economy?
We have continued throughout the COVID period, so it is not like it is a reactivation. It is a consistent approach to maintaining those supply chains open and maintaining those company's opportunities to receive their freight by containers, or assisting our customers to import/export their bulk commodities, or even the subleasing of our warehousing. It is a continued economic approach to maintaining full functionality. Although COVID-19 has been a worldwide pandemic I do not think it has affected Ras Al Khaimah negatively from a business perspective. Business really has continued as it should have, while the administrative functions of certain businesses referred to home working instead of office working with minimal physical contact.
What are your goals and expectations for the rest of the next six months of 2021 and 2022?
The next six months is pretty much business as usual. We have already started seeing an increase in our import/export of bulk commodities to other locations. The Hajar mountain range has the largest open limestone quarry in the world (Stevin Rock) with many decade's worth of rock still to mine. That continues to be part of the construction and building projects not only for the UAE, but also for Kuwait, India, and Bangladesh & other destinations. We see the raw products increasing through exports, so we can only presume that those destinations receiving the cargo are looking to build their infrastructure and continue to develop their own business opportunities. So as long as they do their bit, we will continue to do ours. We are exporting over 50 million tons of products on bulk vessels on an annual basis. Ras Al Khaimah is here to support industries. We have been here since 1977 and I imagine that we will continue for some time yet.