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Filipino company becomes a game changer in Australia

MELBOURNE—A Filipino company is making a difference in what is considered the most livable city in the world by building a fully automated and highly sophisticated container terminal that sets the bar higher in port operations.

“We are sincerely very proud of the work that we have done to be able to achieve something like this.  We are very proud to be probably the only Filipino company that has been able to deliver a product in the world stage that is truly the most sophisticated and the best of its kind,” says 41-year-old Christian Gonzales, the senior vice president and head for Asia-Pacific region of Manila-based International Container Terminal Services Inc.

Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria, is Australia’s second most populated city and listed by Economist Intelligence Unit as the world’s most livable city. Port of Melbourne is the largest container and general cargo port in Australia with a capacity of 2.5 million standard containers and absorbs around 80 percent of international container traffic in the advanced economy.  ICTSI is building the third container terminal in Port of Melbourne.

Victoria International Container Terminal, with Melbourne commercial business district at the background

“I cannot emphasize enough how happy we are with what our team here is doing and we are hoping it translates into a business that really defines us going into our next wave of expansion. It is a big change in Australia in the sense that we are bringing a new form of efficiency to this market.  We are going to deliver a very unique product.  Going back to ICTSI, it also allows us to really go into the next wave of container terminal industry,” Gonzales says in an interview in this city.

Victoria International Container Terminal Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of ICTSI led by Filipino businessman Enrique Razon Jr., is envisioned to become the third and most fully automated container terminal in Port of Melbourne once it becomes fully operational by December this year or January next year, says Australian national Anthony Desira.

“Hopefully when we go live, we will become the most fully automated terminal in the world,” says Desira, a 20-year veteran of the port industry, who now serves as manager of operations at VICT.

VICT won an international bid and signed a 26-year contract with Port of Melbourne Corp. to design, build, finance and operate the container terminal.  The contract covers July 2014 to June 2040.

Desira, who had driven container cranes at Port of Brisbane for six years before he became a systems superintendent in another company, is now leading a team of technical experts to prepare the commercial operations of VICT.

 ICTSI senior vice president and head for Asia-Pacific region Christian Gonzales

“The difference is the level of automation and the level of efficiency we will be able to provide,” says Desira.  “Those new efficiencies include increasing the container to truck ratio from 1.7 containers per truck to over two to three containers per truck. Essentially what that means for Australia is getting trucks off the road, so there are less truck movements for more containers being moved through the port.  That’s one of the key and substantial differences that we will offer,” Desira says.

“We will also offer vast improvements in employee safety. We will replace the human element with fully autonomous robots.  The aim there is not to replace the human but actually to make the jobs that we have for humans as safe as they can be. Traditionally, this is a very, very dangerous industry.  Last year around Australia, there were three deaths. We aim to have zero fatalities in VICT,” Desira says.

Gonzales agrees, saying VICT “would be the only terminal in the world without any human on the land-side, including the ship-to-shore crane,” he says. Everything will be controlled from the comfort of VICT offices.

ICTSI invested A$550 million or $400 million in Australia, according to Marcell Judkins, a Melbourne resident and chief financial officer of VICT. Judkins says while Australians have yet to know ICTSI as a global company, the start of operations of VICT will deliver a level of efficiency in port operations that will define ICTSI among Australians. Leading the VICT team as chief executive is Dutch national Anders Dommestrup, who used to work in Manila.

“We are a very global team,” says Claire Jordan-Whillans, a British national who is married to a Melbourne resident.  She serves as media and community relations manager at VICT, which employs less than a hundred people. “VICT is gonna do things that have never been done before. Our automation technology is game changer here,” says Whillans.

Victoria International Container Terminal Ltd. manager of operations Anthony Desira and community relations manager Claire Jordan-Whillans

Whillans is involved in community relations, such as talking to truckers and residents near the terminal and funding a scholarship program. “We have met the trucking companies, the shipping lines, the exporters and the importers. We have involved people in the process. The community engagement has been a big part of this project,” Whillans says.

Gonzales says VICT is the third largest investment made by ICTSI, next to those in Manila and Ecuador. “We are extremely committed to making a difference here in Australia. Like we do in other countries, we have taken a major risk with the investment and also with what we paid to be here.  We feel this really changes the logistics landscape in Australia. This is a game changer in so many ways,” says Gonzales.

“We always say that MICT [Manila International Container Terminal] is our flagship.  It will always be our flagship, but this [VICT] will be from a technology point of view probably our new international flagship,” says Gonzales.

Desira says VICT will also open Melbourne to bigger vessels from around the world.  “VICT will be able to open the eastern seaboard of this country for the first time ever to Neo Panamax vessels which at the moment are restricted at the Port of Melbourne. Desira is referring to the biggest modern container ships.

Desira says phase 1 of the terminal will have one berth of 330 meters fitted with three Neo-Panamax robotic ship-to-shore cranes, 23.7 hectares of yard and off-dock area with fully automated operations from the gate to the quayside to deliver an estimated capacity of 350,000 standard containers.  Expansion of the project will involve a second phase.

VICT post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes being delivered

The yard will be fully automated, with giant cranes, robots, magnets, sensors and control systems combining their functions to do the heavy lifting, without direct presence of humans on the land side.

“It is fully automated really.  If you compare us to fully automated terminals around the world, especially in Europe in Rotterdam, the lack of human involvement is enormous in VICT,” Desira says.

Located at Webb Dock East near two posh communities and the central business district, VICT began construction in late 2014, with phase one of the project expected to become operational by December 2016.

Desira says vessel traffic into the two other container terminals at the Port of Melbourne is restricted at this time by the height of West Gate Bridge, which can only have a maximum of 6,500 TEU (twenty-equivalent unit) vessels.

VICT is located downstream from the West Gate Bridge. “For us, we have no restriction, because we are south of the bridge. Immediately, we don’t have the impact of having to restrict ourselves to 6,500 TEU vessels. We will be able to have 8,000 TEU to 10,000 TEU vessels,” Desira says.

Melbourne’s tourist center

The container terminal area covers 35.4 hectares that can handle 1.4 million standard containers annually once it is fully built.  It will have two berths and six post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes. 

Desira says VICT’s two competitors are feeling the pressure to keep up with what VICT has to offer.  “At this stage, everyone is watching. Everyone was probably hoping that we won’t be successful.  But with the combination with our contractors here that have done civil works and collaboration with all the vendors of equipment and software, we have been able to deliver already at this early stage a very successful project,” says Desira.

“For our competitors that were hoping we would stumble at the last hurdle, we have taken the hurdle, we have taken the lead and we are well ahead of where we need to be. So we are setting the bar higher and setting the challenge. By December and early January 2017, we will be commercial,” says Desira.

Topics: International Container Terminal Services Inc. , Melbourne , Australia
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