The big interview: Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of the Aberdeen Port Board of Directors

Landmarks in its history include the 1909 magician and escapist Harry Houdini blowing a crowd of thousands with a daring escape after plunging into cold water while chained and handcuffed. “Needless to say, his exploits ensured that his performances at the Palace Theater near Bridge Place were a huge success,” the port said.

It says it is now Europe’s leading maritime support center for the energy industry and the main commercial port serving the north-east of Scotland, handling over 26 million tonnes of maritime transport and contributing annually to £ 1.5 billion to the region’s economy.

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Mr Sanguinetti, who was born and raised in Gibraltar, took the helm in September after his appointment was announced in March, when he said: “Over the past few years I have seen the port grow. step up, making significant investments in its infrastructure – namely the £ 350 million South Harbor development – which will bring the port’s capabilities to a high standard.

“Aberdeen Harbor will soon play a central role in the UK’s net zero plans,” Sanguinetti said. Image: contributed.

“Aberdeen is already one of the busiest ports in the UK. The expansion will allow it to play a vital role in the country’s economic, energy and net zero ambitions. “

After graduating from Oxford University, he served in the Royal Navy for nearly three decades, reaching the rank of Commodore, before working in the Department of Defense in a number of strategic roles.

He went on to become CEO of the Gibraltar Port Authority in 2014, then the same post at the UK Chamber of Shipping in 2018, while he can also claim to be a Freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Les carpenters, for example.

You have just taken the helm as CEO of Aberdeen Harbor and have already undertaken many high profile activities in this role. Can you explain what prompted you to take on this role, what is such a historic organization and what you are aiming for?

The businessman was born and raised in Gibraltar and served in the Royal Navy for almost three decades. Image: contributed.

The Port of Aberdeen is one of the UK’s busiest multifaceted ports, and our £ 350million expansion project – the country’s largest maritime infrastructure project – will bring our capacity to a new level. Aberdeen Harbor will soon play a central role in the UK’s net zero plans.

We will continue to support our existing customers and partners in their transition from traditional oil and gas activity to increasingly carbon-friendly production, while becoming a port and logistics hub for complex and large-scale projects in the renewable energy sector.

This, coupled with strong relationships between the private and public sectors, and backed by 50 years of experience, skills, innovation and a high performing supply chain, makes the Port of Aberdeen a truly exciting place. .

Your arrival has been described as occurring at a “pivotal” moment for the port, and you are overseeing its expansion. To what extent will this boost operations and the ability to be a key player in the UK’s energy transition, for example by having the ability to serve larger vessels used in the fast-growing offshore wind industry? growth.

Our South Harbor expansion will increase our berth capacity by more than a fifth and triple the number of deep water berths exactly as the development of next-generation wind farms and the decommissioning of oil and gas rigs. existing ones will require the use of larger vessels.

Designed to deliver the fuels of the future, the new port will make Aberdeen one of Scotland’s first green ports. The expansion will also attract light manufacturing capabilities and inbound investment opportunities, which will be revolutionary for the Scottish economy.

To what extent can the Port of Aberdeen help Scotland achieve its net zero ambitions, and can you provide details on the sustainability of its own business (e.g. the introduction of shore power in the current port)?

Aberdeen Harbor will play a key role in helping the UK’s shipping and logistics industry address its carbon impact on the marine environment by providing the infrastructure necessary to reduce marine emissions.

In partnership with Connected Places Catapult, we have secured funding of £ 400,000 from the Department of Transport (DfT) to undertake detailed studies to deliver a major shore power demonstration project that will reduce emissions by 50% by ships moored in the port.

We have also signed the Operation Zero initiative of the DfT to accelerate the decarbonization of operations and maintenance vessels in the North Sea by 2025. We are in the process of replacing existing machines with green alternatives, using electric vehicles throughout the port and more energy efficient solutions within the port real estate – our energy comes from sustainable resources including solar, wind and hydrogen.

Do you think that ports are sufficiently recognized for their contribution to the economy – and to society?

Brexit and Covid-19 have highlighted the importance of maritime transport for the country’s economy and for our daily life. We must not forget that 95% of the UK’s trade comes to us by sea and that in Scotland ports handle 71 million tonnes of cargo each year, generating £ 1.9 billion in gross value added (GVA ) to Scottish gross domestic product, which is in fact the highest contribution of the GVA to our economy.

The role that ports play should never be underestimated, and Aberdeen as a key energy hub and vital ferry port for the Northern Islands is of critical national importance. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously in everything we do.

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The Port of Aberdeen has been very active during COP26, for example welcoming US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and participating in the International Maritime Hub of the event. Can you tell us more about your involvement in the event and what you hope / think COP26 will achieve in the long term?

COP26 reminded us that the time to speak up is over and that the time to act is now. We had the pleasure of attending several events in Glasgow during the fortnight and sharing our Green Harbor strategy with many organizations and individuals, while also arranging tours to our South Harbor expansion site.

The scale of our investment was seen as a clear commitment to energy transition and will be felt at the national level, offering significant economic and environmental benefits for years to come.

The work of the Maritime UK trade body around mental health in the sector has been supported by Aberdeen Harbor – what motivated your involvement?

Aberdeen Harbor employs just under 100 people and our teams are very tight-knit. We face challenges on a daily basis and the port has remained open for business throughout the pandemic.

Maintaining the mental well-being of our employees is essential if we are to provide continuous, safe and professional service to our many customers. We will provide whatever support is needed to maintain and improve the mental health of our staff, and Maritime UK’s initiatives in this critical area have been very helpful.

How have your previous roles prepared you for your current leadership role?

My role at the UK Chamber of Shipping has focused on highlighting the importance of shipping to policy makers and the public, so that the industry can thrive and support economic growth through free trade. In Gibraltar, I helped consolidate the port’s role as a key maritime hub to the Mediterranean by improving the services it provides to passing ships.

The highlights of my naval career have undoubtedly been my orders for ships. The common thread is the importance of teamwork to achieve the best results for your organization. The same applies in my current role: everyone at Aberdeen Harbor needs to understand what our vision is for the future and how their individual contributions will make a difference, not only to the port, but to the success of related industries in the region.

The southern port should be operational next year. Where do you see the challenges – for example related to pandemic / Brexit / cost of materials and staffing – and conversely, what is your best case scenario until then? And a few years later?

Work is proceeding very quickly to declare the South Harbor expansion operational by the end of 2022. Like others, we are facing increases in the price of concrete and steel, as well as pressure on construction labor. We are confident that we will overcome these issues and look forward to welcoming the first ships to the new port as planned.

Being so close to completion means we have some edge over competing port projects that only emerge from Covid. Continued government support will be welcome, especially with regard to the effects of Brexit, to ensure we cross the finish line on time.

In the longer term, we anticipate strong demand for the 1,400 meters of quayside and adjacent land for the construction, operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms and other port activities.

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