Wallem’s foray into project cargo
Wallem Group, founded in China and with Norwegian heritage, has provided a wide range of maritime services for almost 120 years. It is continuing to expand its focus in the project cargo segment.
Currently, as part of the Wallem Group services, they offer Agency solutions which range from all cargo services to cruise ship agency. Dickson Chin, Managing Director of Wallem Ship Agency, has worked with Wallem for over 14 years. Dickson was based in Thailand as Managing Director for Wallem in the Indo-China region, encompassing Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand.
He then moved to Hong Kong, where the Wallem Ship Agency HQ is located. Speaking to Project Cargo Journal, Chin explains the reasoning behind Wallem’s venture into new grounds.
Expansion into the Project Cargo Sector: “Things are shaping up.”
“We do look after different segments, here within our portfolio. Now, we want to put another, more refined focus, on project cargo,” Chin explains. This decision has in part been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on freight rates globally, which have been rising the last two years: “Obviously, supply and demand has helped, and the recent spike in freight rates have also been factors,” he continues. The recruitment of management with experience in the project cargo industry, in the Indochina region, has also been a factor: “We’re hoping that we can tap into the project cargo segment in a manner that is a little bit more focused.”
A third factor has been increasing demand for project cargo transportation in Asia. A number of Asian governments have committed to reducing their carbon footprint, in line with all the global sustainability initiatives and goals. “We’ve seen two countries taking the lead in particular: Japan, and Taiwan. We’re seeing huge investments in the energy sector, with, for example, the installation or renovation of wind farms or natural gas pipelines. These are the kinds of projects that we have been particularly involved in,” explains Chin. “Wallem is able to provide on-the ground, technical experts, in these areas.” The energy sector in particular, involves the transportation of extremely large components and industrial machinery, such as generators or wind turbines.
It should also be noted that Wallem is focusing on the Asian region, when it comes to project cargo. “Our heritage is Norwegian, but for our Ship Agency business specifically, our footprint of offices is only in Asia. That is our home turf, so to speak. We are an Asian expert,” explains Chin. Wallem’s focus on Asia has allowed the company to develop a strong regional presence and network of experts.
“We have been working with some of the leading, reputable carriers, who have been very supportive.” One recent interesting project that Wallem has worked in collaboration with was on the construction of a wind farm in Northern Japan, near Mori, in the waters of Uchiura Bay. Wallem Agency was responsible for unloading and installation of the cargo, made up of the components necessary for the construction of the wind farm, including turbine and generators. Wallem also handled on carriage, from the port to the installation site, or getting components “to that last mile.”
The agency handled two shipments a month, for a period of nine months. However, COVID-19 brought on significant difficulties.
Wallem, a Leading provider of Asian expertise through the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Asian region was especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with effects being felt there the longest. “Covid has had a serious impact on our industry, especially on the project cargo segment,” says Chin. “It had a huge impact, in terms of available technical expertise, and parts, which can only be maintained and installed by experts. So, delays have happened.” Indeed, usually, clients may be EU or US based companies, who send their experts along with the components, for them to oversee projects: “We count on experts from providers from overseas. And when these projects are implemented in our region, the involved government will also engage overseas experts.”
Due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Wallem had to source technical experts locally over the course of certain projects, such as with the Japanese wind farm. “In 2021, things were very tough in terms of COVID. The whole world was coming to grips with it. Usually, in projects like these, the company would have flown in experts from all over the world, and done the installations with very little local involvement, before handing the keys over to the government of Japan, and saying ‘run it.’ However, at that time, we had to source technical experts locally.” explains Chin.
Interestingly, many components of the turbines were designed and made in Japan, before being assembled abroad, then shipped back. This meant that Wallem was able to find local technical experts, so that progress could continue to be made on this project, throughout the duration of the pandemic. “We were also calling on our group, our sister companies, to come in and support us” he adds. It is thanks to their strong local network that Wallem managed to maintain activity throughout the pandemic.
Advantages of a ‘boutique’ business
Despite project cargo being “a relatively new segment for Wallem Agency,” the smaller size of this agency is an advantage, according to Chin. “We are still small enough, boutique enough, to be able to offer the personal service and the attention to detail that some of the bigger companies might overlook, or may not put as much emphasis on.” he continues. “At the end of the day, as agents, it’s always the person that you are dealing with. It’s the person that you’re working with that sets us apart and that is our frontline staff.”
When an overseas technician arrives at the port, Wallem Agency sets them up, to be based in that location for time periods ranging usually, from three to six months. This includes providing them with a suitable service apartment and vehicle, but also a mobile phone and phone plan, bank accounts, and more. Though many of these experts are used to this kind of travel, and frequent relocation, “there are always newbies who are coming into new locations they are perhaps not so familiar with. Language can also be a problem.” explains Chin. “Getting these sort of little things set up, and all before the project or the cargo arrives, helps us build that rapport and trust with the clients.”
Wallem’s focus on developing its project cargo agency, stimulated by the increasing importance of energy and sustainability related projects in Asia, pandemic freight rates, and increased expertise within Wallem staff, has therefore been bearing fruit, as shown by the development of strong partnerships with global players, and governments. The travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic did slow the development of certain projects. However, by adapting to the situation, Wallem managed to see their projects to completion, thanks to a strong network of local experts in Asia. Wallem’s strong partnerships and network of experts in the region, as well as their ‘boutique’ size and attention to detail, therefore set Wallem apart, as a truly Asian expert.