Heavylift / Breakbulk
Skills once learnt are never lost
Carrying out project transport tasks in Australia has been one of the mainstays in recent years for the Hamburg-based specialist SAL Heavy Lift, which is part of the K Line Group. Now that that country’s oil and gas industry as well as its mining sector have lost some of their momentum, SAL is turning its focus to other regions. Its experience down under will stand it in good stead in new undertakings.
All good things come in threes. The project cargo specialist SAL Heavy Lift, which is headquartered in Hamburg (Germany), does not put all its money on a single horse, but operates in three different business fields. A semi-liner service for heavylift consignments, breakbulk and project cargo, which shuttles to and fro between the Far East and Northern Europe, is the backbone of its business.
«This offering sees us operating in a strongly-contested market, it is true,» Justin Archard, SAL’s managing director for the Asia / Pacific and Oceania region, explains. «This field will nevertheless remain the pillar of our activities.» There is a good reason for the fact that the service is classified as a «semi-liner» link, for SAL can easily accommodate individual clients’ needs along the route, both in terms of ports of call as well as sailing schedules.
Two years of preparation
SAL’s second business segment focuses on transporting project cargo on vessels that have been specially laid out. «Basically, what we do, to all intents and purposes, is to temporarily integrate our company into that of our customer, which enables us to offer a tailor-made solution», Archard illustrates the approach. «We recently shipped both an LNG as well as an LPG platform from Batam in Indonesia to Australia, for example, subsequently installing them in a port there. The task required close cooperation with the client over nearly two years for a couple of shipments that in the end only took about 15 days.»
SAL concentrates on activities that call for technically-demanding transport solutions. On top of this the company is also engaged in the offshore installation sector. The head office for these activities is in Delft (Netherlands), where it operates in parallel with the Hamburg headquarters.
SAL has been in business in its current form since 1980. Though the company has registered steady organic growth in this time, momentum has mirrored the market and slowed slightly in the last five to six years, as Archard acknowledges. 50% of the firm was sold to K Line in 2007, and in 2011 the remaining half was also transferred to the Japanese shipping line. And for the first time a Japanese national took the reins at the end of last year. Toshio Yamazaki assumed charge from chief operating officer Lars Rolner, who left after 33 years on board.
In the past decade or so SAL has benefited particularly from its activities in the oil and gas industry in Australia, which was simultaneously also a key driver of economic growth in Asia. Even if this particular region has been experiencing something of a downturn for some time now, SAL’s experience in transporting equipment for the oil and gas and mining industry is in demand in many other parts of the world too.
From Australia to the world
«In the past many of our ships were involved in a series of port construction programmes in Australia,» Archard explains. «This entailed installing modules on pillar-based foundation elements, for example. The techniques that we used there can easily also be applied in other areas of the globe.» Such projects sound easier than they effectively were. The fact that the work was usually carried out in thinly-populated and remote regions was a big challenge. There was thus frequently a lack of qualified experts available locally. «So we had to think of methods of completing the contract with a different approach than was usually the case,» Archard clarifies.
Modularisation, constructing parts in China and the deployment of vessels that had been specially laid out for the cargo concerned were some of the ways in which the heavylift line solved the problems, in collaboration with its clients. «Today it is a more or less well-known problem in the industry. At that time, however, hardly anybody had really thought about the best way to handle projects in those parts of the world,» the managing director expounds.
Archard is sure that it is thanks to experiences such as these that SAL is well-equipped for future projects. His candidates for interesting challenges in the next few years include Myanmar, Vietnam and India. «There is a lot of potential there,» is his optimistic prediction.