Ocean Carriers

Natthapong Jirakajorn, Safmarine, on African Trade

Natthapong Jirakajorn, Safmarine, on African Trade
Logistics Manager

Mr. Denis E. Waitley, an American motivational speaker and writer, once said, “Time is the most precious element of human existence. The successful person knows how to put energy into time and how to draw success from time.” For almost 15 years, Mr. Natthapong Jirakajorn, the latest Country Manager of Safmarine, has been dedicated to his work and used his time to advance Safmarine to become the top shipping line for Africa routes in Thailand.

Dedication from the Start

Mr. Jirakajorn has been in the ocean freight industry since he graduated from university with a Bachelors degree in Finance. “I have been at Safmarine for 15 years. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of different departments, such as Customer Service, Marketing, Sales, Line Management and Operations.”

“After I graduated in 2000, I started working at A.P. Moller-Maersk Group in the Management Trainee Programme. The first department I worked in was Customer Service for Bangkok Marine Company. At that time Bangkok Marine was an agent of MCC Transport and Safmarine.”

The Right Perspective

One factor that motivates Mr. Jirakajorn to work in the logistics industry is love for the industry and pride in being a part of Safmarine. Mr. Jirakajorn says, “I like the logistics industry because it is always changing, so in order to compete, we must take the challenge of changing along with it. Additionally, the logistics industry helps boost international trade by increasing the amount of import and export volume while reducing the cost. When I got the opportunity to travel to South Africa, I saw that one of the cars commonly used by South Africans is a car manufactured by one of Safmarine’s customers. This makes me feel very proud that we can help our customers’ products be exported and sold internationally.

In the time that Mr. Jirakajorn has been working with Safmarine, he has seen many changes and a lot of development since the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group purchased Safmarine in 1999. This move allowed Safmarine to expand its services as a member of the Group. As a result, Safmarine’s services now cover all of Africa, though previously Safmarine focused mainly on services to South Africa. The shipping line has even expanded its networks to include the Middle East region and the west coast of America. Additionally, in 2012 Safmarine moved its headquarters from Belgium to Denmark in order to improve its synergy and teamwork with Maersk Line, as well as revamp its corporate strategy. This change has been a factor in Safmarine’s current success – the shipping line has continuously experienced good results despite unstable economic and political situations that have affected many major players.

When he was promoted to his current role as Country Manager, Mr. Jirakajorn established clear management goals to accelerate Safmarine’s advancement in a good direction. “I want to develop Safmarine Thailand into the best shipping line for customer accessibility and experience. In addition to improving customers’ convenience in contacting Safmarine by phone, email or the website, our customers will have a good experience as well as satisfaction when using our services. They may even recommend others to use Safmarine’s service.”

An Expert Opinion on the Thai-African Trade

Since Safmarine is the world’s leading shipping line in African trade routes, Mr. Jirakajorn has a lot of specialist knowledge in this trade. He shared some information about the Thai-African trade with us, “Thailand is a very important market to Safmarine. Because Thailand is a base for exports for automotives, electronics and agricultural products such as rice and sugar, Safmarine has very high export volumes from Thailand. In Asia, Thailand’s exports are second only to China.”

“This year, there was strong growth in the trade between Thailand and Africa, especially for exports. Because prices for Thai rice have fallen to become competitive with Vietnam and India, Thai rice exports to Africa grew this year. The major exports that Thailand ships to Africa are rice and automotive parts. The products that Safmarine exports in the highest volumes are automotive parts. Aside from this, other important exports from Thailand to China include canned foods, electronics, and plastic beads. As for the raw materials that Thailand imports from Africa, the major products include rock, crude oil, scrap metal, gems and various fibers.”

Mr. Jirakajorn also shared his outlook for the Thai-African trade, “In the future, Thailand’s trade with Africa will definitely grow, because Africa is a huge market. The African economy is predicted to grow a lot in upcoming years. The middle class is growing, and more consumers are gaining purchasing power. This will lead to Africa importing more goods, particularly technology products and consumer products.”

The Strengths of the Safmarine Network

Because Safmarine was founded in South Africa, the company has extensive experience and specialist knowledge of Africa, giving Safmarine an advantage in providing services in the African trade. “Safmarine has offices all over Africa, and a large service network with a variety of destinations. Safmarine’s staff members also have a lot of industry experience, which allows them to give expert guidance to customers for import and export. This advice is very important to customers because Africa is very different from Europe, Asia and America, which generally have better infrastructure. Furthermore, Safmarine partners with local service providers in Africa such as car transporters and rail operators, enabling the shipping line to provide total service with the utmost convenience for customers,” says Mr. Jirakajorn.

In Thailand, Safmarine provides direct service from Laem Chabang Port to Mumbasa Port in Kenya and Dar es Salaam Port in Tanzania in east Africa. Safmarine also provides service from Laem Chabang Port to Sudan, as well as Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, to serve Thai customers who want to transport goods to Africa with fast service, on-time delivery, and none of the risks that can come with transshipment.

Overcoming Challenges Unique to Africa

Even though Safmarine is a very experienced operator in African trade lanes, the shipping line still continues to encounter various obstacles and challenges that come with working in this region. The two main challenges are regulations and port congestion during the peak season. Mr. Jirakajorn says, “African countries have various regulations that Thai people may not be familiar with. Also, the regulations can change at any time. Recently, Gabon established a law banning the import of secondhand cars more than three years old. For customers that didn’t know about this new law, any cars they sent would be returned to their origin, dramatically increasing costs for the shipper. Another example is that some countries require a certificate number in the bill of lading. If they do not have the certificate number, shippers must pay a fine.”

“But Safmarine’s customers don’t have to worry about these fast-changing regulations, because Safmarine has offices and networks that cover every region of Africa, guaranteeing easy access each country’s news updates. When we have any information that could be useful to our customers, we will report it to them immediately so that they can make the necessary adjustments.”

When it comes to port congestion during peak season, Mr. Jirakajorn explains, “Imports to Africa are increasing each year, but the port infrastructure has not been updated, and its capabilities have not expanded to accordance the increasing volume. This causes port congestion, particularly during the third quarter to the fourth quarter. Therefore, cargo will often arrive at the destination 1-2 weeks late.”

“However, because Safmarine has been a longtime operater in Africa, we have received berth priority in some ports in Africa, meaning our vessels can berth as soon as they arrive at the port. Additionally, APM Terminals, a member of the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, has invested in developing some ports in Africa in order to boost productivity and capacity. This helps Safmarine avoid many of the problems of port congestion.”

Aside from the issues with regulations and port congestion, which are very challenging issues in the African logistics industry, the problem of the Ebola virus is another concern. Mr. Jirakajorn and Safmarine cannot overlook the importance of this issue. Mr. Jirakajorn said, “The Ebola virus is a worry for everyone. We cannot predict exactly how we will be affected by it, but currently we have not been directly impacted by the virus. No matter what, Safmarine and A.P. Moller-Maersk have prepared extensive procedures to deal with this. Because we have staff members working on ships and in offices in regions affected by the virus, we cannot overlook this problem.”

The management team’s vision, experience and motivation in developing top quality service has not only created success for the business, but also reflects and emphasizes Safmarine’s excellence as a shipping line that is dedicated and motivated to provide the best service to their customers in the African trade. Safmarine’s customers can be confident that they will receive the most benefits from using our service.

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