As the breakout of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March of last year shook global economies and supply chains, the shipping industry was no exception. Daily News Egypt spoke with Ahmed El Ahwal, Commercial Manager at Transmar, to find out his views on the shipping industry’s prospects following the pandemic.
How did Transmar work on upgrading its services? What are your leading types of containers and shipping routes?
We continuously work on enhancing our service offering, and as a regionally focused carrier, we are able to get close to our customers and our on-ground operations. It is this focus and dedication that allows us to stand out in our market.
As a subsidiary of IACC Holdings, Transmar covers the maritime transport aspect of our integrated service. Our sister company, Transcargo, acts as the terminal operator in Al Adabiya, while IACC Logistics provides trucking and customs clearance and Safina acts as the port agent.
We are proud to be one of the few organisations in the region with this broad range of services covering the entire container shipping supply chain.
Built on the vision of our founder, our fully integrated container service has grown and developed to be the preferred choice for importers/exporters between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our commercial and operations teams on the ground in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the cornerstone of this success. We are currently active in 12 ports in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the UAE Following the government directive to enhance economic relationships with Sudan, 2020 was a year of growth for us in both the Egypt/Sudan and Saudi Arabia/Sudan trades. We are looking forward this year to further growth and investments in Sudan.
Our fleet of about 10,000 containers is of different sizes and types based on the regional trade flow structure, with 40 foot High Cube containers being the most popular due to the range of cargoes they can carry.
We have been investing in expanding and upgrading our fleet of refrigerated ‘reefer’ containers and have doubled our fleet of reefers since 2019. We have also been investing in a fleet of gen-sets to complement our existing service.
What challenges did Transmar and the shipping industry face during COVID-19, and how did the pandemic change the shipping industry?
The breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of last year shook global economies and supply chains with no exceptions. Lockdowns and movement restrictions led to supply and demand imbalances around the world.
The scattered rise of the virus in different countries and the ranging level of impact led to a shift in global trading patterns. Under the government’s clear guidance and direction, Egypt was lucky to face minimal disruptions to industrial and agricultural production. With economies all over the world disrupted, neighbouring countries turned to Egypt as a stable and reliable source of goods.
The global shipping industry has reacted diligently to the effects of the pandemic; capacity and sailings were reduced to match the declining global demand. This meant freight prices were stable but at the expense of service reliability due to decreased capacity.
Both demand and supply recovered much sooner than expected, which led to a global container shortage and pileups of full containers in ports across the world. Most global shipping lines have reported an increase in volumes in the third quarter (Q3) and Q4 of 2020, compared to the same period of 2019.
How were you able to deal with the crisis to maintain your business to stand strong? What business opportunities were created out of the pandemic?
We reacted swiftly to the breakout of the pandemic by closing our offices in early March 2020 and shifting all office roles online. We were lucky that our teams were familiar with working remotely while being well equipped to do so.
Balancing between business continuity and looking after the health and safety of our team was our top priority. We are proud to be the only shipping line in Egypt to close our counter during the pandemic and shift our documentation and invoicing process to be managed remotely to protect our team and our customers.
A network of company cars and couriers were responsible for collecting printed shipping documents from our team’s homes and delivering them to customer’s premises free of charge.
On-ground port operations were also luckily unaffected. By introducing new health and safety measures and providing paid sick leave to any suspected cases, we were able to isolate any cases and prevent any on-site spread.
The year 2020 was a true test for businesses in all industries around the world. How fast companies react to change determines how well they can survive.
Being in such a dynamic and volatile industry, along with decades of experience in dealing with economic and political disturbances, has prepared us to react and respond to an event as life-changing as the COVID-19 outbreak.
Technology also played a vital role in our smooth transition to a remote organisation. The use of cloud-based IT solutions for our communications and operations enabled us to maintain zero disruptions to the service level our customers expect from us.
What are the strengths that distinguish Transmar in the shipping industry?
Our strength lies in the trust that we have built with our customers over the past four decades. Shipping is a volatile industry, which is why having a stable regional partner that has been here for decades and is here to stay is of major importance to both multinational and local businesses across our region. We are a customer-centric organisation with the belief that being a trusted and reliable partner to our customers is the foundation of our growth and expansion.
As we often say to new-comers to the industry, ‘we help our customers sell cargo to their customers’. Shipping is not a standalone industry, it only exists to facilitate international trade. Keeping this in mind, we have been able to position ourselves as much more than just a service provider to our clients.
As the first private company to invest and operate in Al Adabiya in the early 1980s, we consider it to be our home port and the jewel of our service. Al Adabiya’s close proximity to the Suez Canal and the top industrial zone has aided in its development to become a gateway for Egypt’s trade with its top regional partners.
What are your plans and expectations for Transmar’s performance this year?
With 75,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalents) shipped, we are optimistic to build on the success we achieved in 2020. By growing our fleet, expanding into new ports, and enhancing our on-ground service offering, we prepare for the expected growth in the markets we serve.
Industrial and economic reform in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with a shrinking trade deficit, means that two of the region’s largest economies cement their position as key manufacturing economies on a global scale. Certain developments in Sudan, such as lifting of sanctions as well as political and economic reform, positions Sudan as one of the region’s promising economies in terms of economic development and growth in the years to come.
Certain challenges face the industry, such as a sharp increase in operating costs and fuel prices which are on the rise. While we do not expect 2021 to be an easy year, we are confident in our teams and in our solid operational and commercial foundations to continue the story of growth.
The Suez Canal Economic Authority (SCZone) has been giving support in overcoming the obstacles facing shipping companies. How do you think this will benefit the shipping industry?
Since its inception in 2015, the SCZone has played a pivotal role in developing and upgrading ports and industrial zones under its authority. Through a clear and structured investment plan, the SCZone attracted investors to aid in the development of the zone and increase business activities in the maritime and manufacturing sectors.
Another notable success was the development of a reform plan to upgrade and enhance port infrastructure, as well as digitizing several functions to ensure efficiency and ease of doing business.
Transmar has had the slogan of “regional partner” for decades. How do you describe the relationship with your strategic partners?
While niche regional carriers are quite common in other markets such as South East Asia and the Caribbean, we are proud to be the only regional carrier in the Red Sea. Our dedicated container service was initially launched between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Over the years, we have grown and expanded into Sudan in 2008 and the UAE in 2016. Over the past four decades, we have witnessed the positive outcome of our regional focus, which has allowed us to stay close to our partners. Local and multinational companies alike value the benefit of having a reliable local partner on ground that serves as an extension of their teams.