Oman 2015 | TRANSPORT | B2B

TBY talks to André Toet, CEO of Sohar Industrial Port Company, and Jamal T. Aziz, CEO of Sohar Free Zone & Deputy CEO of Sohar Industrial Port Company on increasing operational efficiency.

André Toet
Sohar Industrial Port Company
Jamal T. Aziz
CEO & Deputy CEO
Sohar Free Zone, of Sohar Industrial Port Company

The GCC region is an importer of foods, and food security is vital not only for the GCC, but for Muscat and Oman in particular. How has Sohar Port prepared to accommodate agricultural products?

ANDRÉ TOET We built the Sohar Industrial Port in three clusters: petrochemical upstream; steel/metal upstream; and logistics. But in the logistics section, the agricultural part was still missing. Therefore, we decided to convert the former container terminal into an agricultural facility. The base to start from is the raw import of sugar, but also that Oman has decided to locate a large part of the strategic food reserves in Sohar Port, which means that we will also receive grain imports. The grain and sugar give us ample opportunities to go downstream with food in the Port entry zone. On the food distribution side, we rely heavily on the container terminal, because most food products are now containerized. Most grain and sugar arrives in bulk ships, but specifically the consumer part of food is now transported in containers. Shortly we will open a new container terminal: we foresee a massive increase in the shipping of perishables, such as vegetables and meat, not only for the Omani market, but also for the GCC market, the Gulf, and even Iran, India, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Rim.

What other types of investments besides food might be attracted to the free zone area? What is your focus?

JAMAL T. AZIZ The idea of the free zone is to expand our base of investments that started in the port into more downstream activities. This involves smaller sized industries, and is an expansion of our investment area by creating economies of scale in terms of our available port, energy, and other utility infrastructure. And of course increased downstream activity spells value-added logistics attached. So what I said about the food sector can apply to other commodities, like minerals for example. The distribution and consolidation of goods is one of the main value propositions of the free zone where commodities come from either our port, from local resources, or from around the world, and then you redistribute them as is, or with added value through some processing or manufacturing, for example assembly, packaging, and so forth.

You have recently signed an agreement with Phaeros to develop an advanced port management system. What will be the result of this collaboration?

AT We have signed a deal with Phaeros, an IT company from Belgium that had participated in an international tender. There are three things we want to achieve with the implementation. First comes savings on navigation: we are going to implement what we call a new harbor, where ships arrive for departure at the terminal. Secondly, we look forward to the added ease of doing business. Agents can directly access the system and place all their orders into it. Thirdly, our internal processes for all marine activities will be directly linked to our ERP software for internal efficiency and improved safety in the marine environment. We aim to provide a one-stop-shop for customers coming to Oman who are less than familiar with the procedures. We are a single contact for them that arranges all official requirements of the Ministry of Commerce, as well as the environment, labor, and manpower.

What will be the impact of Sohar Port for the local population in terms of job opportunities?

JTA In terms of job generation, the Port has created approximately 8,000 direct jobs, and in the Free Zone a further 2,000. When considering direct jobs and total job numbers, you can take a multiplier of three or four indirect jobs created in the local economy. These are services that you offer to support industry in Sohar, such as retail, hospitality, and other industries. Therefore, we expect SOHAR to not only be a Port or Free Zone, but an engine of economic growth for the country. It is to date the largest industrial area. Duqm will have to catch up in years to come, and we are about 10 years ahead in terms of development.