Modern Freight Company in Jebel Ali, U.A.E.

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Interview with Mr. Nick Trott
Modern Freight Company

Tell us about when Modern Freight Company (MFC) was established, the background and the current ownership of the company.

Modern Freight was established 40 years ago, in 1977, as a Liner Agency company focusing on its leading carrier at that time, APL. We started with only 5 staff in a very small office in downtown Dubai and have since risen to having 300 staff across the UAE and Qatar. We now provide a complete range of services including:

  • Contract Logistics (where we have our own facilities and a total of 50,000 pallet positions)
  • International Projects
  • Clearance and Forwarding (Air, Sea and Sea/Air combined)
  • MFC Container Concepts, which not only stores and repairs containers, but also modifies them to produce some stunning retail units together with more robust off-shore DNV units

How long have you worked at MFC and what is your role in the company?

I have been at MFC for 12 years, joining in 2004, coming direct from the UK where I was with Andrew Weir shipping and Hamburg Sud. I came into the company as Deputy GM and took control of the company as GM in 2007.

Tell us about your own shipping background and what originally brought you to the U.A.E?

Whilst with Andrew Weir I was initially responsible for the container trades which ran from UK/Europe into the Arabian Gulf and India/Pakistan. Towards the end of my time at AWS I was responsible for our Breakbulk/Container trade from South Africa, East Africa into the Arabian Gulf and India. A most interesting venture, with the varying ports and performances, not to mention the weather in Africa which caused endless scheduling issues.

Tell us about the main strengths of MFC. What can customers expect in terms of services in the U.A.E.?

MFC’s core strength has always been our operational expertise. For 40 years we have gained and kept clients due to our intelligent and diligent operations staff at all levels of our business. We will always go that extra mile whether it is for a specific operation at the port, container facility, warehouse or for planning a potential route for oversized cargo (as we did in Pakistan for some cargo moving from Dubai to Afghanistan by road!). We are also able to provide the true one stop shop.

We have the following abilities:

  • To buy/lease containers from our MFC Concepts division (or just repair)
  • Store cargo, whether it is rackable, temperature controlled or just open yard (we have 15,000m of space)
  • Move cargo, either by Sea (Charter, FCL or LCL), Air or Road
  • We can provide full clearance facilities both import and export with our 35 dedicated C + F staff

What kind of companies are normally using the free zones in the U.A.E.? I understand there are many free zones in the U.A.E., what are the differences between them?

There is a huge diversity of companies which are registered in the Jebel Ali Free Zone. Some come here to merely set up an office to enjoy the tax free business offering, whilst others have their logistics hub where cargo is imported under duty free terms and then re-distributed to other countries around the region. This allows companies to import their goods and only pay any duties as and when they move from the free zone for export, either into the local UAE market or to other countries. Most products pay duty at 5%, although there are just a few items (cigarettes/alcohol) where the duty is 100%. As you say, there are many free trade zones in the UAE although the Jebel Ali free zone was in fact the first. Others have since commenced operation offering very much a similar operation to that of Jebel Ali (ie, Tax/Duty free) but obviously more localised.

Warehousing and distribution is obviously important from a logistics point of view, tell us about what you offer customers in this regard.

We currently have over 50,000 pallet positions in 4 warehouse, of which two are fully owned by MFC, whilst the other two are on long term lease. Here again we are able to offer a full supply chain facility from the point of origin, to our warehouses in either Dubai or Qatar, reworking as required and then re-shipping to the final customer. Within our warehouse facilities we have dedicated air conditioned areas where we provide a full re-work/testing/re-packing solution for clients including an area where we are able to change and test plugs for the retail products.

Give us examples of projects that you have handled.

For Projects, we have handled many different items from simple individual crane moves to rig moves. Some such projects were:

  • Rig Mobilization from Jebel Ali to Nigeria where the contractor was Saima Avandero, Italy who appointed MFC as the pre-carriage / FOB agents for a rig mobilization. The Project consisted of one rig with total volume of approximately 18,000 freight tons ex Jebel Ali storage area to Nigeria via Port Onne where we were fully responsible for co-ordination, completing necessary formalities and delivering the entire rig under hook vessel at Port Jebel Ali.
  • The Zawra Power station project where MFC was awarded the project by contractor General Electric. The project consisted of approximately 15,200 freight tons of general cargo, 6 heavy lifts up to 205 MT for two 9E frames. Our scope of work included customs clearance, delivery of general cargo to the site as well as discharge and stowage at respective lay down areas. Heavy lift units were directly received under hook from vessel and stored on stools/beams for installation on the foundation.
  • An award in Qatar from the Qatar Fertilizer Company (QAFCO) which consisted of three out of gauge packages of Ammonia converters which were shipped to Milano, Italy for repairs. MFC was responsible for pre-carriage ex QAFCO yard, Messaid Industrial area to Jebel Ali and further on-carriage by Sea to Livorno and final delivery by road to Milano door. On completion of repairs, MFC moved subject shipment back to Qatar.

Within your group MFC is also producing a special kind of purpose built containers, tell our readers more about this product and give us some examples.

MFC Concepts is a division of Modern freight which is a manufacturing company based in the Jebel Ali Industrial Area just 5km from Jebel Ali Port. As well as providing a safe and secure location for storing shipping line containers, the company now offers a complete range of Container Conversion / Modular Solutions to the Oil, Gas, Construction and Power companies both in the region and beyond. We have built control rooms for oil companies, kitchens for retail companies, ablution / changing rooms for hotels and finally, off-shore (DNV 2.7-1/2 units) for the oil and gas industry. All of which are manufactured at our facility in Jebel Ali. We have also built units for the Volvo Ocean race which provided not just areas for repairing the yachts, but also a hospitality area, as well as the now infamous Box Park in Dubai which has become an iconic retail centre. The great thing here is that we are now acquainting ourselves with architects who are finding more and more innovative ways to use these second hand containers – and helping the environment.

How is the life generally in the U.A.E for an expat these days? What are the upsides and downsides?

The U.A.E. is a fantastic place to live. The lifestyle is great and most importantly, it is safe – a rare thing in these troubled times. A huge bonus for us both on the business and social front is the worldwide connections from Dubai and Abu Dhabi thanks to the growth of both Emirates and Etihad airways. Dubai has become one of the largest airport hubs in the world, which allows us to tap into these connections and fly direct to almost all major cities in the world. The downside is merely the weather – at up to 50C in the summer it really is stifling, but it is a much shorter period than most winters seen in Europe, so we can cope by just turning up the A/C……

In your view what does the future hold  for business in the Middle East given the decreased oil prices recently?

The whole region is basically Oil and Gas dominant and hence the price decrease has hit many projects here in the Middle East, and not just those affecting the Oil and Gas sectors themselves. With the drastically reduced revenues from these sectors, we have seen many infrastructure projects put on hold or cancelled all together and hence the throughput of project cargo has been affected. On the brighter side, we do have some good news with the Expo 2020 coming to Dubai and being held at the new Dubai South airport, which will also provide projects for the expansion of the airport and its surrounding area. We also have the 2022 World Cup Football in Qatar where they are building 8 new stadiums and a metro system which will cover a large part of the state. Finally the price of oil has been steadily increasing over the past 6 months and hence we should start to see some projects beginning in this sector as well. So not all doom and gloom…..

Nick Trott
General Manager
Modern Freight Company