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'It is business as usual in Georgia'.

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 ports.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 12, 2008
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