Interview: Neville Bissett

How will Qatar’s maritime trade benefit from the normalisation of regional relations and the positioning of Hamad Port as a trans-shipment centre?

NEVILLE BISSETT: The fastest way to get products from A to B is not by ship. It is, however, the best means to transport a significantly high volume of products – more than via any other mode of transport. In this context, Hamad Port has been positioned as a trans-shipment centre in the upper Gulf region, although our primary mandate will be to continue to serve Qatar. Hamad Port will ensure that the local supply chain is not disrupted and provide services to a population of roughly 2.7m.

There are important growth opportunities to look at in the region, especially as the GCC continues to enhance connectivity among its members: Saudi Arabia, for example, has opened a land bridge with Oman. We will continue to see advancements in the transport network in the Middle East, not just in the Gulf, with many more opportunities for trade lanes to open.

Ports are typically the first stop for imports and the last stop for exports. This means that, in Qatar, we have to consider how to effectively address last-mile delivery. There have been significant achievements in this area, namely increasing connectivity with roads and airports.

Where do you envision future pain points in maritime trade, and what steps can be taken to mitigate international supply chain issues?

BISSETT: The Covid-19 pandemic has affected international supply chains significantly, causing restrictions on the movement of personnel and materials that have led to project delays. However, supply chains are now becoming more adaptable and flexible as a result, and as the severity of the pandemic decreases and travel restrictions are lifted, operations should return to normal to a large extent. We will then see a significant ramp-up in trade because companies will want to make up for lost time. The question that arises is whether supply chains, as they exist today, will be able to handle such a great surge in traffic. Given that this pandemic has affected the entire world, stakeholders in international supply chains will inevitably have to adapt even further by upgrading capabilities, expanding capacity and making changes to become faster and more productive in order to better manage the situation in the future.

Which emerging tech solutions can have the greatest impact on port operations?

BISSETT: At QT erminals communications between vessels, as well as between our yard planners and ship banners, are digital, and we have rolled out a 5G network in collaboration with telecoms provider Ooredoo, becoming one of the first terminals in the world to do so. Similarly, ship-to-shore cranes are all controlled remotely, so employees are not in the cranes but in an office directly them with joysticks.

There is still much to do to reduce the amount of paperwork and manual processes involved in international trade, so moving forwards we foresee port operators around the world making significant efforts to enhance their digital capabilities with the internet of things and artificial intelligence.

To what extent can improved compliance with environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles benefit the transport sector?

BISSETT: There are many aspects that must be considered, but it is important to realise that having a greater emphasis on ESG standards does not necessarily mean added cost. The majority of companies are now much more conscious about their environmental impact; this is a must in the case of infrastructure development, especially when digging ports. In addition to looking at sustainability from an environmental point of view, it is important to improve the work-life balance of employees to not only keep them engaged, which results in greater productivity, but also to attract top talent.