‘It Is Business As Usual In Georgia’

By Shakir Husain

Gulf News
Sept 12 2008
United Arab Emirates

Dubai: Venkatesh Govinda is chief executive officer (CEO) of the Saqr
Port Authority (SPA) that manages Ras Al Khaimah’s 30-year-old Saqr
Port, a leading bulk cargo handling facility in the region. He also
advises Ras Al Khaimah on the logistics and maritime businesses.

In April this year, SPA acquired the majority stake in the Georgian
port of Poti. Despite Russian military activities in Georgia, the
agency has no plan to abandon its business there. Govinda, who also
serves as director of the port, said "it is business as usual" in Poti.

Govinda was born in 1956 in the southern Indian city of Chennai. He
is married, and has two children. He holds a bachelor’s degree in
science and a master’s degree in English literature. He has been in
the maritime business since 1982. In the UAE, he is also chairman and
chief executive of Global Cargo System and Direct Shipping Services
Group. He also heads RAK Global logistics group, a joint venture
between RAK Ceramics PJSC and Global Cargo System.

Saqr Port is looking at its second phase of expansion to build 13 new
deep water berths to receive new generation large vessels. Other than
operational and financial oversight, Govinda’s responsibilities at
the port authority also include exploring new business opportunities
overseas by bidding for management concessions.

In an exclusive interview, Govinda also shares with Gulf News details
of the port’s expansion plans and how Ras Al Khaimah wants to benefit
from its location in attracting more maritime business.

Gulf News: What investments is Ras Al Khaimah making in expanding
infrastructure at Saqr Port?

Venkatesh Govinda: Saqr Port will break all records and will handle 30
million tonnes of bulk and assorted cargo during 2008. Our volume was
22 million tonnes in 2007. We have purchased three new mobile harbour
cranes and two new shiploaders, bringing the total to 15 loading and
unloading equipment.

To meet the growing demand, Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown
Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, has issued directives
to construct the second phase of Saqr Port with an investment of
$900 million.

The second phase will have a total of 13 berths with a water depth of
15.5 to 18 metres. At present we are doing geo-technical works. The
expansion project will be completed in 2011.

Apart from that, the construction of Hulaylah Industrial Park is
under way near Saqr Port.

The project cost is Dh400 million and it will be ready in 2010. It
will offer quay walls to logistics companies. It suits companies that
do activities like oil blending. It is a dead-end channel and will
provide 2.5 to four kilometers of quay walls. Investment in basic
infrastructure is $100 million.

The concept is new and shall be made public next year. RAK shipping
line is a JV company with a vision to hold on to niche markets. It will

How do you aim to position Saqr Port in relation to other major hub
ports such as Jebel Ali and Khor Fakkan in the UAE?

Saqr Port is naturally the biggest bulk and general cargo port in
the Middle East. Its location is strategic because of its proximity
with quarries and cement factories in Ras Al Khaimah. Experienced
professionals and advanced loading unloading equipment will always
keep Saqr Port ahead.

The second phase expansion will add substantial value to oil, bulk
and container terminals. The port will be linked to a railway line to
two major locations and free zones, substantially reducing the road
congestion and transport cost. It is an excellent transshipment hub
for neighbouring countries.

What kind of growth have you witnessed in the logistics sector in
Ras Al Khaimah in the last few years and what are your projections?

Ras Al Khaimah is going through an industrial boom, which automatically
generates additional logistics infrastructure. The yearly growth
henceforth shall be tremendous. All the current warehouses in the
emirate are full. During the next two years we will see an additional
1.5 million square metres of warehousing space. We are developing a
land area of 200,000 square metres ourselves. It will provide 100,000
square metres of warehousing space.

With huge growth in imports and exports, UAE ports are facing berthing
shortages. Is Saqr port in a position to attract new business?

The Saqr Port expansion plan is based on local demand. The
government is also planning for the future. It will attract new
business. Currently we have 12 berths and a water draft of 12
metres. Of the 13 berths in the new phase, two will have a draft
between 18 metres and 20 metres.

United Arab Shipping Company has started calling at the container
terminal, which is managed by Kuwaiti company KGL Ports. They have
three container berths. We are getting three to four container vessels
per week.

Ras Al Khaimah has in the past vied for foreign ports, including the
Georgian port of Poti. Are you still interested in having a presence
in Georgia considering that the current political situation is not
seen conducive for foreign investment?

The Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority’s decision to take over 51
per cent of the Poti seaport along with management rights and the
free industrial zone is based on our long-term business plan. The
volumes have increased since we took over in April.

It is business as usual as far as cargo operations at the port are
concerned. We expect volumes to increase because of Western aid
coming into Georgia. Poti is the only major port in that region
and serves countries like Kazakhstan and Armenia. Poti seaport
and industrial zone’s policies are driven by business formulas not
political situations.

Are there any other foreign port assets that you are bidding for?

We are looking at three ports. These are major ports used mostly for
bulk and multi-purpose cargo. I cannot give details at this stage.

How do you wish to compete with other established players in the port
operation business?

We specialise in bulk and multipurpose port projects so our focus
is different. We are not competing with big players specialising in
container handling and we are not interested in managing container

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