Ziad Kanaan: “The EU funded project YEP MED is an exceptional opportunity for youth development and empowerment”
The president of the BCTC Company running the container terminal of Beirut Port highlights the collaboration with the CCIB, within the framework of the EU-funded YEP MED project which aims to provide vocational training and employability for the Mediterranean youth, especially the NEET and women. An initiative to welcome in those difficult moments of crisis and especially after August 4th blast.
1- Beirut Container Terminal Consortium is a private company. Since when are you running the container terminal of Beirut Port? What about its role and objectives?
Beirut Container Terminal Consortium (BCTC) was the winner of an International public tender to operate the Container Terminal at the Port of Beirut and has been operating the Terminal since December 2004. The company’s vision is to ensure a safe, high quality, and efficient model facility supporting local trade growth and serving as a transit and transshipment base for the region. The BCTC is a success for the Public Private Partnership Model and the Economy of Lebanon. With the Port of Beirut we have transformed Beirut into a key Transshipment Hub on the Eastern Mediterranean and developed the Terminal into one of the top 120 Terminals in the world. Handled cargo increased from 300K TEUs in 2004 to 1.30M TEUs in 2019. This led to economic growth for both the Public and Private sectors, employment opportunities, and higher liner shipping connectivity resulting in lower shipping time and cost for trade to and from Lebanon.
Our workforce is more than 99% Lebanese and is comprised of around 650 employees (500 BCTC and 150 dedicated subcontractors). There was extensive investment in training and development programs especially at the start of operations that transferred the knowledge and expertise to our local workforce. Our operation was a new industry to Lebanon which is now being exported abroad. The terminal operates continuously 24/7 and deploys a large fleet of container handling equipment, 167 machines in total that include some of the largest Ship-to-Shore cranes in the world. These are the red and blue cranes that stand out at the eastern side of the port. The operations and maintenance rely on sophisticated information management systems specific to our industry. Investment in R&D led to improved productivity and efficiency giving us a competitive advantage.
BCTC’s contract expired on 31 Jan 2020 and is being extended on a 3 months rolling basis awaiting the release of the new Concession tender. This is in the face of the country’s well known and unprecedented challenges: The financial restrictions on foreign transfers puts Terminal operations at risk as there is an immediate need for critical goods and services that are sourced outside of Lebanon such as spare parts, software, and insurance premiums. This critical financial position was exacerbated by the impact of the August explosion. Let’s add to all this, a backdrop of both the word coronavirus pandemic and the local economic depression which led to a severe drop in volumes and revenues, coupled with the dreadful local hyperinflation. This created extreme imbalances in our contacts. Urgent intervention by authorities is required to lift restrictions on our foreign transfers and to regain balance to ensure sustainability of the port and the integrity of the supply chain.
2- After August 4th Blast, Beirut and its Port and population were devastated. What was the emergency and crisis management role played by the company?
Even though BCTC has its own emergency plan, no one was prepared for the scale of such a devastating blast. Yet, at the time of the blast, there was an instant response for the safety of employees. Search teams were directly assembled at the port. 3 colleagues were found with critical injuries. One unfortunately later passed away. There were 7 fatalities among our subcontractors. A complete count was done where we reached out to every employee to account for any missing colleagues and to check on the safety and health status of the ones we could reach. Unfortunately, 2 remained missing, and while the search at the port continued throughout the night into the early hours of the morning, other teams were visiting hospitals in Beirut and suburbs and calling further away hospitals several times a day to search for them. This carried on for more than a week until the bodies of the missing were found. Total casualties were 10 fatalities and 42 injuries including some major ones. Despite the heavy human casualties and the distress from the explosion and especially having 2 colleagues missing, the team assumed responsibility for getting the Terminal back to operation. A crisis management center was set up the next morning at the Citea hotel in Achrafieh. The management team was divided in two, one looking after the humanitarian side of the situation while the other focused on the technical and operational side. Priorities were defined. Clearly, first being the search for the missing employees and supporting the injured and the families of the missing and deceased colleagues.
Initial inspection and assessment of the site started on the first morning while technical teams were planning and organizing the start of work with Safety as the primary objective. The critical tasks were risk mitigation, restoring power and information technology and releasing the vessel that was under the cranes at the time of the blast. Personal Protection Equipment was upgraded because of the dust and debris, reefer containers were moved to temporary power supply as main supply was disrupted, and containers containing hazardous materials were surveyed for possible leaks as a result of the blast. A special thanks is to be given to the Lebanese Army for their round the clock work in securing and clearing the port and their management of the Hazardous cargo, for which we also extend thanks to the EU for their support on this matter.
In the search efforts, no stone was left unturned while coordinating closely with the Lebanese Army and security agencies as well as the local rescue services from civil defense, red-cross and fire brigade. Foreign rescue services later joined in the search where we sought the assistance of the UK team from SAR AID. We are immensely grateful for the efforts of the United Kingdom and to all who participated in this humanitarian effort. In the meantime, dedicated HR personnel were visiting and checking the family of the deceased and the missing colleagues as well as the injured at the hospitals and home to assist and support them.
The explosion destroyed our warehouse of spare parts and our maintenance workshop. In regards to equipment, the damages were mainly on the rolling equipment. Equipment that was put back into operation underwent full re-commissioning in coordination with the equipment manufacturers. This included inspection and functional testing, repairs, and a 6hr endurance testing for Cranes (replicating operation using dummy loads). This was a minimum of 3 days effort per crane. These were the immediate measures to allow resumption of terminal operations, however, a prudent measure was adopted to operate the cranes at 50% of their lifting capacity until further inspections are carried out by the manufacturer. In a record time of just three days the terminal resumed operations to complete the moves on the vessel on berth to allow it to sail. Normal port operations were resumed on August 10. These exceptional efforts in mobilization of the workforce as well as testing, inspection, and repair of equipment demonstrated the dedication, resilience and commitment of the team. This was all done while caring for the human needs of everyone affected by the blast.
The Terminal is now running at 50% capacity, both in terms of volume and maximum lifting capacity of the ship-to-shore gantry cranes that are keys to the operation. Currently, there is an urgent need for foreign sourced spare parts and technical services for equipment inspections in order to return equipment to full capacity. However, this is being hampered by the restrictions on foreign transfers.
3- On 18 December 2020, a delegation chaired by the Director general of the CCIB, Rabih Sabra, visited the Beirut Terminal Container Operator at the Port of Beirut to explore and expand their understanding of the activities and seek areas of potential collaboration for vocational training and employability for the youth, especially the NEET and women, as part of the YEP MED Project. Can you describe us this visit’s insights and its importance?
BCTC was excited to host CCIB to explore areas of collaboration, training and development of the Lebanese youth. Being introduced to the CCIB team and seeing their genuine interest in our operations and engagement were truly heartfelt for us. Indeed, it is reassuring that the CCIB is leading in such a positive and professional manner with clear commitment to the economy and social development as witnessed through the YEP MED project.
The organization’s structure, management system, operations and services at the Container Terminal were presented in detail covering the following topics:
1. Health and Safety Safety Comes First
2. Human Resources Core values: Justice, Care and Hope
3. Planning Optimization of the Yard and Vessel Operations
4. Operations Three pillars: Safety, Quality and Efficiency
5. Customer Service Customer Centricity
6. Information Technology Secure, Effective and Compliant Solutions
7. Asset Management Keeping Equipment Well Maintained
A site tour to the facilities was organized to introduce the operational activities covering:
• The Planning and Operations Control room
• The Yard and Quay side including visiting the control cabin of one of the Ship-to-Shore cranes
• The Maintenance Workshop and Spare Parts Warehouse
BCTC Training Programs were also presented. The in-house trainers were introduced to share their journey at BCTC where they were trained by foreign experts, before undergoing special train-the-trainer intensive program to become certified trainers and train all the operators, at all levels, in Lebanon and abroad. We are a ‘’specialty’’ industry that is not easily accessible to the public by nature given the access restrictions at the port. The visit was therefore essential to gain a thorough understanding of the operation, its role in the port industry and how it can contribute to the YEP MED project especially after having the opportunity to interact with the workforce first hand.
4- What can you tell our readers about the BCTC upcoming collaboration with the CCIB within the YEP MED project?
We are extremely pleased to be selected to contribute to such an initiative for the development of the youth, NEET and women, and we are confident we can achieve it successfully. Our team members are knowledgeable and experienced as they have participated in essentially similar tasks locally and abroad. We are eager to put all our available resources at the disposal of CCIB to ensure the success of the YEP MED project and any similar social development projects. Collaboration during the current crisis is critical for the economy and society, especially the improvement in the employability rate, the development of the vocational schools and training centers, as well as the new skills learning opportunities for the youth and women. We are certainly looking forward to the collaboration with CCIB on projects that would not only benefit the Ports industry but also the Economy of Lebanon. We are also prepared to offer apprenticeships in the different operational departments as well as potential hiring later on.
5- How will this collaboration be implemented on the ground?
The provided training will be in-house and on-the-job. The vocational training stages are: Pre- Assessment, Training Mapping, Suitable Training Programs, Assessment.
BCTC Training Programs are a combination of theory and practical tuition and include:
1. Container Terminal Technical Training
a) Equipment Operators
b) Operations Management Planning, Supervision, and Control,
c) Asset Management Planning, Repair and Maintenance,
d) Health and Safety
2. 2. Skills and Competencies Training
a) Behavioural Skills
b) Computer Literacy and Languages
We train the apprenticeship in each of the selected roles and can tailor the training programs as required depending on the skills and capabilities of the apprentices as well as accommodating new roles. Close follow-up and evaluation will be carried out to ensure the successful transfer of knowledge to the new apprentices.
6- What are your expectations about the YEP MED project input for Lebanon, for Beirut’s Port and especially the Youth?
We are confident that the YEP MED project will have a positive impact acting as a catalyst for development and empowerment. It will provide the Lebanese youth with new career possibilities and will equip them with the needed knowledge, skills and abilities to perform and excel at their job duties and tasks. The industry will benefit from essentially an upgrade in the skills and competencies of available candidates. This can only impact positively on work standards.