By Conrad Prabhu — MUSCAT: Jan 29 – Port of Salalah, the nation’s largest maritime gateway, is moving on multiple fronts to secure the “longevity and sustainability” of its predominantly minerals-based general cargo business. An estimated 1.2 million tonnes of general cargo commodities, chiefly limestone and gypsum, are shipped out of Salalah every month. But the exponential growth of the business is threatening to overwhelm the port’s handling infrastructure, as well as the wider supply chain – challenges that must be suitably addressed if Dhofar Governorate’s hugely promising mining industry is to be sustained, a senior port executive has stressed.
Jesse Damsky (pictured), Chief Commercial Officer – Port of Salalah, warned that limitations in the supply chain that currently delivers massive volumes of limestone and gypsum from quarries in Thamrait — some 70 – 90 kilometres away in the hinterland of the port – must be addressed if the governorate’s mining potential is to be fully unlocked. “It is important to recognise that the mining industry is absolutely vital to the longevity and sustainability of the economy of Salalah and the Dhofar Governorate,” said Damsky. “This region is rich in minerals, and the mining industry here is creating jobs, while the logistics industry is helping diversify the economy away from a petroleum-based economic,” Damsky told delegates at a mining expo held in the city recently.
The executive called for a concerted effort involving all of the stakeholders in addressing the “multi-faceted challenges” threatening to undermine the governorate’s mineral exports potential. Most notable is the industry’s sole dependence on trucks to transport the mineral commodities from Thamrait to the port. With around 1000 truck movements required to serve a standard 50,000-tonne vessel, the resulting implications for, among other things, wear-and-tear of local roads, driving safety in the mountainous parts of khareef-bound Dhofar, and adequacy of trucks and drivers to supply vessels at berth, are significant, he warned.
“When you move around 1.2 million tonnes of cargo by truck, with each truck offering a maximum capacity of 50 tonnes, that’s a lot of trucks that will be needed — more than what’s available in the market,” he remarked. Also of concern for the port, said Damsky, is the escalating demand for new areas within the port for the stockpiling of minerals and other general cargo commodities. He explained: “As it takes 7 – 10 days to get the cargo from the mine to the port, it should be brought to the port before the vessel arrives, and would have to be stockpiled in the port. As it happens, some products sit in stockpiles for long periods of time, thus necessitating more space to be created. All of this leads to secondary and tertiary issues.”
For its part, the port is investing in new cargo handling equipment to help assist in the speedy loading of vessels.
At present, the ships use their own gears to transfer general cargo volumes piled up on the berth, aided by wheel-loaders provided by the port.
“We are investing in mobile ship-loaders, which will increase the ship loading speed, thereby alleviating some of these challenges,” said Damsky.
“We also have shore cranes to assist and augment the loading process, and we will
have additional handling equipment which will significantly increase the handling throughput.
These will double the capacity of the throughput once the ongoing investments in superstructure are complete.”
In his presentation, the executive also urged authorities to “prioritise” the development of Dhofar’s supply chain infrastructure, which is pivotal to the long-term success of the region’s mining industry.
He cited in this regard the industry’s contribution to the local economy in terms of employment generation, small business development, and socioeconomic growth.
“When you look at the supply chain from the quarries to the port and to the vessels, the port is an important part of the supply chain, but not the only part. So logistics has to be a team effort. The government, mining firms, shipping companies and so on, need to all get involved.”
“It is important to develop Dhofar’s supply chain system with additional investment to ease the trucking constraints, whether it is in the form of rail networks, whether the (government’s logistics development arm) Oman Global Logistics can look at how to manage the trucking companies, the potential to look at 3PL to manage the booking system, and so on,” he added.