An interview with Mr. Nawaf Abdulla, CEO of DP World Limassol giving an overview after 4 years of the privatisation of the Limassol Port.
Photos by DP World Limassol-New Multipurpose Terminal Operator at Limassol Port, all copyrights reserved
1. Mr. Abdulla, you have been with DP World since 1997, but as CEO of DP World Limassol only since Feb 2020. What made you move to Cyprus and what are your first goals as the new CEO?
After 23 years at DP World, I can certainly say that I am proud to be a part of a team that is much like extended family in many ways. The Group has provided me with opportunities to grow and become better at what I do. Throughout these years, I had the opportunity to lead various development and expansion projects within DP World’s portfolio, mainly in the UAE, Africa and Asia regions. Therefore, moving to a new country is not something new for me, but of course it can be both an exciting and challenging experience at the same time. I was eager to start working and living in Cyprus, and so far, I have had an incredible experience, as it is a beautiful country with many prospects. Since I was appointed as CEO only about a month before the Covid-19 outbreak, I would say that I had to adjust rather quickly. I rapidly became acquainted with the local stakeholders, who have helped us navigate the crisis as well as with our team here in Cyprus, which has demonstrated an incredible competence and devotion. With what I have seen so far, I am confident that we can overcome the crisis and bring the Limassol port closer to its targets and particularly its aspiration to become the main port of choice in the Eastern Mediterranean.
2. Can you briefly present the Port of Limassol? What are its main characteristics and challenges?
Located on the south coast of the island, the Limassol port is the largest and busiest port in Cyprus and one of the most important ports of the Mediterranean, as it is located between three continents and only an overnight sailing away from the ports of Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Greece. DP World Limassol is the operator of the multipurpose terminal, which is comprised of three multi-purpose quays, break-bulk, general cargo, Ro-Ro, Oil & Gas services and the brand-new passenger terminal. Specifically, the 7,000 sqm Passenger Terminal was inaugurated in May 2018, offering cruise lines and passengers a wealth of services to accommodate all their needs, supported by the high international standards and efficiency of DP World Limassol. Over the last couple of months, our biggest challenge has been to adjust our operations to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has brought our cruise and oil and gas operations to a standstill. However, trade enabling activities and quayside operations at the Limassol port are being carried out as normal, while we remain optimistic that the cruise sector will be able to bounce back in a few months.
3. What is the role of DP World to the port of Limassol and especially as an investor and the vision as a leading force to the socioeconomic growth?
As a leading enabler of global trade operating in multiple locations around the world, we add value to the management and operations expertise of the Limassol port. Our 25-year concession agreement to exclusively operate the multi-purpose and cruise terminal, is a commitment that as a Group we take very vigorously. From the beginning of our operations in Cyprus, our primary aim has been to ensure the smooth operation of the terminal and the provision of high-quality trade enabling services to our customers. Limassol holds a key position in the Eastern Mediterranean and we aspire to establish it as an attractive destination, transforming the port into a regional hub for both trade and cruises. As evidenced by our targeted investments, we are keeping our promise, by modernising the port’s infrastructure, installing modern systems and investing in other sectors such as energy and cruise tourism.
4. How many staff are in DP World Limassol and out of those how many are Cypriots? How do you implant a culture of innovation in your employees in Limassol after the port was for so many decades in the public sector?
Across our operations in over 50 countries we mostly employ local staff, in keeping with our goal to be part of the local community and further develop its capacity. DP World Limassol currently numbers 80 staff members, 90% of which are Cypriots. Since the first day we took up duties in Limassol, we started building a solid foundation, aligning the port’s operations with our global practices and vision. This also included infusing a culture of innovation and sustainability throughout DP World Limassol’s operations. Our excellent cooperation with Cyprus Ports Authority, Ministry of Transport and the Deputy Ministry of Tourism was also incredibly helpful to this end. Since day one, we made it absolutely clear that we want our people at DP World Limassol and the local community to grow with us, making the most of the new opportunities. As such, driven by our belief that our people are our greatest asset, we invested heavily in the skills and knowledge of our employees in Cyprus through world-class training and development. It didn’t take long to see results. We quickly came to realise the high level of human capital in Cyprus and therefore, its potential for further development and the infusion of innovation.
Photos by DP World Limassol-New Multipurpose Terminal Operator at Limassol Port, all copyrights reserved
5. What are the core aspects and the growth opportunities of the Limassol Terminal? What does it mean to be a leading port for DP World?
As I have mentioned above, we believe that the Limassol port has the potential to become a main port of choice in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is an especially advantageous port with many opportunities for growth because of its strategic location in close proximity to three continents. We also believe that the Limassol port can also play a significant role in supporting the increasing offshore drilling activities in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone. A leading port is a port that consistently records excellent results across the board, in many sectors. As such, we believe that DP World Limassol has the potential to be consolidated as a leading port in the wider region in the cruise and the maritime trade sectors as well as the oil and gas logistics sector. The most important attribute is to be flexible and adapt to our customers’ needs’.
6. During the COVID-19 lockdown digitisation offered unexpected opportunities and is profoundly affecting a growing number of business sectors, including the transportation industry. What do you make of this development and what strategies guide Port of Limassol actions in this area? Do you think the port is “on course” in its implementation of digital technologies?
The unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns around the world have sped up digitization. It is my understanding that the coronavirus crisis will have implications for the business world that last well into the decade. New and more productive ways of working will be adopted across all sectors, and shipping is by no means an exception. While automation was already a big part of our business model, the use of digital tools was part of the solution in maintaining a productive workflow in our ports. As such, I believe that the coronavirus crisis will accelerate automation and digitization in the shipping sector, drastically changing the sector altogether. Even before the crisis, DP World made its operations inherently resilient, by investing heavily in state-of- the-art equipment, such as remotely operated cranes. This kind of equipment was also acquired in Cyprus, where we have invested in high-tech mobile harbour cranes and a reach stacker, among other things, thereby enhancing the safety and efficiency of our operations at the Limassol port. Moreover, amid the pandemic, DP World Limassol launched new digital payments solutions, allowing for convenient and secure digital transactions for all customers and partners to pay DP World Limassol fees from their office or even house.
7. Is the plan for the Cyprus-Greece ferry link still on or postponed? What is the importance of Cyprus’s ferry connection with Greece? Will it boost the tourist flow or will develop a new two-way relationship?
As it was recently announced by the Deputy Minister of Shipping Natasa Pilides, the Cyprus-Greece ferry link has been postponed until the summer of 2021. Even though the government expects the project to be greenlit for funding by the European Commission very soon, the deadline of the tender for the ferry’s operator will be extended, because of the coronavirus crisis and the complicated nature of the EU tender. The Deputy Minister has said that it aims to launch the ferry link by summer 2021. Even if it will be delayed by a year, the ferry link will be an incredible addition to the island’s connectivity. A new type of connection will be added to the country’s appeal, rejuvenating and boosting the tourism sector, offering at the same time an alternative option to air travel.
8. What are the main focal points of your port’s environmental policy? Do you intend to conduct any environmental projects in the near future?
At DP World we are committed to being world leaders in sustainability. We believe that working in a sustainable and responsible way is essential in order to build a strong business for our customers, people and society. As such we have implemented a sustainable development strategy, based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, aiming to minimise our environmental impact by better managing natural resources and emissions. Specifically, we aim to reduce the energy output per unit of movement across our operations, by increasing efficiency and promoting clean energy. Our ultimate goal is to create a zero-emission supply chain across our networks, helping the communities we serve and creating a cleaner society. Moreover, through the DP World Sustainable Development Financing Framework, DP World finances environmental sustainability projects. Lastly, at the local level, DP World Limassol is a member of the Cyprus Marine Protection Association (CYMEPA), an association aiming to encourage and actively assist effective efforts to prevent all forms of sea pollution. What is more, we often organize activities such as tree planting events and beach cleanings with the active participation of our staff, in an effort to raise environmental awareness and improve the quality of life of the local community.
9. Limassol is a popular cruise destination. How is the cruise business evolving in your port? What are the main challenges? With the COVID-19 the cruise industry is heavily affected. What are your expectations for this year and your plans to recover from this?
Limassol has all the attributes to become a main port of choice for major cruise lines. Over the past few years, our efforts to promote the cruise sector have been very successful, demonstrating the port’s potential to increase its business even more. In fact, the port has managed to attract more and more cruises every year. According to the most recent statistics, DP World Limassol served 106 cruise ships in 2019 compared to 68 in 2018, recording a 40% increase. However, things are expected to be different in 2020. Major cruise lines have suspended their operations due to the pandemic, completely changing our forecast for the 2020 tourist season. The cruise sector is in fact one of the hardest-hit industries in this crisis. Although it is rather difficult to forecast the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the full impact of the measures taken by governments around the world to contain the virus, we have already started seeing positive signs. For example, traffic in our ports in China has recovered following a significant dip in volumes. In meantime, we remain vigilant, continuously monitoring developments in cooperation with the local authorities and fellow stakeholders of the maritime sector.
10. What are the figures from the first half of 2020? Are you confident enough to make a prediction for the second half of the year?
While it is still rather early to calculate the full impact of the coronavirus in terms of figures, we believe that DP World Limassol is in a strong position to get through this crisis. For the moment we are striving to ensure that our operations around the world continue uninterrupted, while we have implemented contingency plans to deal with the challenges of this pandemic as they develop. At the same time, we are by no means complacent to the current crisis. We are aware that greater challenges lie ahead and depending on the developments, we will adapt our strategy and our future activities.
By Stella Violari, CSN