Q&A: Gibraltar port chief Bob Sanguinetti talks bunkers

Q&A: Gibraltar port chief Bob Sanguinetti talks bunkers

Bob Sanguinetti (Photo Nigel Draffin)

Bob Sanguinetti, who became an IBIA board member on April 1, 2016, brings the port perspective on our industry, representing a port where the bunkering business is a hugely important part of the local economy.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be CEO and Captain of the Port of Gibraltar in May 2014.

I took up the post of CEO of the Gibraltar Port Authority in May 2014.  Prior to that, I’d served in the Royal Navy for three decades, rising to the rank of Commodore.  As a mariner, I served at sea onboard ships ranging from mine hunters to aircraft carriers, commanding several Royal Navy warships and a multinational coalition Task Group before working at the Ministry of Defence in a number of strategic roles.  Most recently I was Head of Intelligence at the UK’s National Operations Headquarters in North London.  I became aware of the vacancy for this post whilst on a strategic development course in London in the spring of 2014.  It rapidly went from an idle exercise in preparing for interview to ‘I ABSOLUTELY must get this job!!’  It seemed tailor made for me.  Having been born and raised in Gibraltar, and spending most of my childhood years in or on the water I am delighted to now be back in my birthplace contributing to the well-being and continuing development of the Port. 

Was the bunker industry on your radar before your current role? What was your impression of it and has it changed since you became CEO of the Port of Gibraltar?

Whilst the bunkering industry was not necessarily on my radar before my return to Gibraltar, as a mariner, I always had an interest in the quantity and quality of the fuel onboard my ship.  Bunkering is obviously fundamental to shipping and, in the Port of Gibraltar, it is the principal line of activity, making it the busiest bunker port in the Mediterranean.  Since taking up my post I have occasionally picked up on a perception of ‘shadiness’ in the industry.  The reality, in my experience here, is totally different from this.  I see in the bunkering community in Gibraltar a desire to provide quality bunkers, in the agreed quantities, in the most safe and efficient manner, in support of ship owners and operators.  Despite tight margins, with reputations at stake, and individual and collective responsibility for the protection of our precious environment as a top priority, it cannot be any other way.    

What do you see as the main strengths of the Gibraltar bunker market?

Gibraltar finds itself in a strong position in the bunkering industry with four physical suppliers active in the port.  Despite the recent pressures on the shipping community and increasing regional competition Gibraltar recorded growth in both the number of ships calling for bunkers and in bunkering volumes in 2015.  This growth was reflected across most areas of activity in the port including cruise ships and, of note, superyachts.   Continuing global economic challenges and the uncertainty of Brexit will test the market here – a good thing.  But what is clear is that the advantages provided by the Rock’s location and proximity to some of the busiest shipping lanes will ensure that Gibraltar remains a key hub in the global maritime network, not just for fuel but for the provision of a wide range of services.  This includes crew changes, hull cleaning, stores and provisions and surveys.   The port works very closely with the bunker suppliers and other service providers in considering how to further increase efficiency without compromising safety.  A series of operational initiatives, aimed at cutting turnaround times for ships, together with improvements to the bunkering infrastructure for ex-pipe delivery (for the smaller, coaster vessel market) will enable the business to grow even further.

Is the bunker industry in Gibraltar unique or are the principles for running a successful operation there much the same as in other ports and countries?

The bunker industry in Gibraltar shares many common characteristics with other ports worldwide as you would expect in such an international industry. Chief among these are the issues of quality and quantity, safety of operations and the all important environmental protection.  However, each port will also have its peculiarities and its unique characteristics which may be a challenge or may present an opportunity. In Gibraltar’s case, the relatively small size of the port which can sometimes be viewed as a challenge, also presents us with unique advantages.  For example, our small size allows   the port authority to provide a level of supervision over the bunker industry which is unique to Gibraltar, and sets us apart from most other ports worldwide. This same principle applies to the way in which we have focused and streamlined our communications process with the bunker suppliers, ship agents and the wider maritime service sector locally, and this translates to much shorter response times and a faster decision making process.  Finally, the close knit, dynamic port community, and prestigious, dedicated suppliers enjoy unstinting support from the government.   

What are the most important elements of the Port’s business, and how does bunkering fit into it?  

The Port generates significant revenue for Gibraltar and is often cited as one of the key pillars of the local economy.  Within this sector, bunkering is the key driver, with over 5500 vessels calling at Gibraltar for this purpose.  It is therefore no surprise that we have focussed on providing a most efficient working environment, without compromising on safety of navigation or protection of the environment, which will always be the fundamental objectives.  We have made further improvements to the vessel management system, through which all interested parties are able to exchange vital and relevant information on movements and activity in the busy port.  We are also relocating the port office to a prominent position at the southern end of the Rock with commanding views over the busiest stretch of water across the Strait and into the Bay of Gibraltar.  This will be accompanied by the installation of a state of the art vessel traffic services (VTS) system, the contract for which was signed recently by the government and Kongsberg Norcontrol (KNC).  And we continue to work extremely closely with the four locally based physical suppliers, in providing an optimal level of governance and oversight thus ensuring that complaints and discrepancies on the quantities and quality of fuel delivered are kept to an absolute minimum.  All this is underpinned by a reinvigorated marketing campaign which focuses on direct engagement with ship owners and operators.  Once again, in partnership with shipping agents, bunker suppliers and other service providers, this approach allows us to get a better understanding of the shipping community’s requirements and priorities.

What are the opportunities and challenges for IBIA in your region?

IBIA is at the forefront of the industry in Gibraltar too, and has played an important role in shaping the industry locally.  Its members include most of the leading bunker suppliers in the world, who provide valuable expertise and knowledge to the industry which Gibraltar draws from to underpin its status as a hub of maritime excellence.  Gibraltar is also at the forefront of the development of the IBIA Port Charter, where we can both contribute and benefit from the exchange of best practice between the leading bunker ports of the world and more widely.

Looking forward, IBIA has a pivotal role to play in shaping the way ahead for the shipping industry as we consider the implications of the introduction of the 0.5% global sulphur cap in 2020.  In actual fact, IBIA is already very active on this issue, providing invaluable input to the complex debate.

How does being a member of IBIA benefit your role and your company?    

Being a part of an internationally recognised, specialist but diverse and reputable organisation like IBIA brings obvious benefits to its individual and corporate members.  The importance of being able to lobby governments and international bodies on issues that matter to all of us cannot be overstated.  Similarly, the ability to shape the shipping industry’s future is a powerful incentive to contribute.  IBIA’s role in this, shaped by the views of its membership is key.  In parallel, membership of IBIA facilitates the exchange of ideas and information across a large, well informed international network of stakeholders. 

What made you decide to stand for election to the board of IBIA?    

Twofold:  Firstly, my desire to make a valued contribution to the industry which plays such a large part in the Port of Gibraltar.  Secondly, to help strengthen the bond between IBIA and the largest bunker port in the Mediterranean for our mutual benefit. 

Do you have any messages for other IBIA members considering getting involved with working groups, regional executive committees or standing for the Board?

No matter how limited you feel your contribution might be, don’t hesitate to come forward and support the good cause.  IBIA is the sum of its component parts and every member has a key role to play in helping shape the industry’s future.  

Do you have any tips for someone considering a career in the bunker industry today?

Join us!!  We are living in extremely interesting times.  Shipping is the life blood of the world economy and is responsible for the carriage of about 80% of world trade.   But, at the risk of stating the obvious, shipping cannot function without bunkers.  And the nature of bunkers is changing as we seek to protect our precious environment.  Why not be a part of it?

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