LOGISTICS – No project can begin construction unless the right materials are in place. It’s up to Petrofac’s logistics team to make sure that happens

If you were asked what challenges might be involved in transporting materials from one place to another, your first words probably wouldn’t be “monsoons, cyclones and pirates”. But for Petrofac’s logistics team, ensuring challenges like these are planned for is a huge part of ensuring every single delivery gets from A to B on time and in one piece.

Before any shipment can even begin its often lengthy journey from one destination to another, the team must meticulously plan every aspect of the project. That begins with a call to the engineering team to talk through drawings. It’s these, explains Logistics Director Matteo Pollara, that inform how the next steps in the project are managed.

“The drawings tell us what we need to deliver and exactly what the transportation and installation requirements are,” says Matteo. “For example, delivering larger, modular parts to save space on offshore projects. It’s vital information. We can then enter the manufacturing stage knowing exactly what needs to be produced, and start thinking about what specialised transport is needed, insurance requirements, loading and unloading during the journey and the final delivery to site.

“Of course, we also have to be familiar with geopolitical factors in regions a shipment will travel through and government policies in different countries, while also accounting for administrative procedures and often complicated bureaucracy.”

All potential issues, however remote, must be planned for. What if the weather takes a bad turn or a shipment is held up by pirates? That’s where detailed risk assessments come into their own. The team doesn’t just have a plan A, but a plan B, C and D as well.

“We risk assess everything. Depending on the type of transportation and the route, some will require more in-depth assessments than others. For instance, we had a project which involved transporting material from Korea to the United Arab Emirates. We were in monsoon and cyclone season, so that required a very specific risk assessment to work out what month would be best to ship things in to mitigate risk to an acceptable level.

“Another difficult shipment was for a project in the Caspian Sea. There are two rivers into the sea we could have used to make deliveries, but it was winter and both were frozen over. That made choosing the right time to make the deliveries very important. The other issue was that there is only one major port, 1,260 kilometres from the site, which meant transportation needed to be planned in great detail.”

New technology is helping to mitigate some of these weather-related risks. Petrofac has pioneered a solution involving putting large items on barges which are themselves then loaded onto semi-submersible vessels capable of predicting the weather, allowing precise route mapping to avoid adverse conditions.

“It guarantees we can take a safe route from each destination and allows us to avoid bad weather as it occurs,” says Matteo. “This has never been done in the history of the industry on a large scale – Petrofac is blazing a trail here. The industry has now realised it’s a viable one and other companies and contractors are beginning to use it themselves.

 Weathering the storm

“While it may add cost at the beginning, at the end it’s cheaper. There’s no waiting on the weather to transport materials and you can guarantee a delivery time to construction so their work isn’t delayed. In the past, we may have said ‘your delivery will take 20 days’, but then the weather changes and it takes another 20. The technology we used mitigated that.”

As for how technology will continue to develop over the next few years, Matteo believes there will be a push to operate in a more environmentally-friendly way.

“The industry is looking at ways to reduce emissions by using renewable energy. I know there are some projects, for example, using solar panels for electric propulsion. It will have an effect on our industry, but I think it will also change people’s views of logistics.”

“There are two rivers into the sea we could have used to make deliveries, but it was winter and both were frozen over.”

“My daughter once asked ‘daddy, what do you do for work?’. My answer to her was that we can take something from one place and move it to another. She then asked if we could take our house and move it to the UK. I said yes, but that it might take some time!

“In our logistics team, we have taken on people who already had a background in it and some with less experience. I believe if you have passion for the job, you can be successful. You need to be able to approach a problem in an analytical way, process it and then find a solution.

“As someone with an engineering background, I am very process led. You need to know everything you can about a project before you execute anything. All projects are going to have challenges to overcome, it’s having a plan to deal with them that’s so important.”

Matteo Pollara
Director – Logistics

5 minutes with...

Brown Vijaykumar
Manager – Logistics

“I joined Petrofac nine years ago. I’m a supply chain professional, so a big part of my role on our projects is looking at the technical side of things. 

“As Steve Jobs once said, ‘if you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution’. That’s the mantra we work to, with all operations requiring months of micro-level pre-planning. And that’s easier said than done! This complex business environment requires flexibility, patience and persistence.  

“You have to be able to deal with new challenges on a daily basis, especially when handling hazardous and regulated items. Nothing makes me prouder than when shipments arrive on time at their destination, without compromising on safety. On the incredible journey, we will either find a way, or create one.” 

11,156  The longest journey in nautical miles, on which Brown Vijaykumar has sent cargo – from Korea to the Shetland Islands, UK


What’s the longest journey you’ve sent cargo on?
From Korea to the Sullom Voe Terminal in the Shetland Islands, UK – approximately 11,156 nautical miles.

What’s the biggest object you’ve moved?
The largest was 74 metres long and almost 13 metres wide, and the heaviest 1,500 metric tons – 150 times as heavy as the anchor of a cruise ship.

What’s the most treacherous journey cargo has taken?
We cannot afford to be complacent, so consider every journey as potentially treacherous.

Where is the most difficult terrain?
The CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) region has very difficult terrain, with often poor quality roads and mountainous regions needing to be accounted for.

5 minutes with...

Sindhu Dasan
Manager – Logistics

Sindhu is a chartered naval architect, and also a marine warranty surveyor, qualified to provide technical review and approval of high value and/or high risk marine construction and transportation project operations, from the planning stages through to the physical execution.

“Over the last few years I’ve been responsible for managing logistics movement of all heavy lift modules and buildings on a very big project. There’s so much to manage, but it’s incredible to see how well the whole team works together.

“You might think that we are able to take a breather once a large project is complete, but that’s absolutely not the case. We are always looking forward and planning the next bit of work so we can ensure it’s finished safely and on time.

“It’s a hectic job at times, but made much easier working as part of a team that puts everything into providing the highest quality work possible.”


What’s the longest journey you’ve sent cargo on? 
Around 6,750 nautical miles – from China to the United Arab Emirates.

What’s the biggest/heaviest object you’ve moved? 
Pre-assembled units weighing 4,429 metric tons – the same as around 2,500 cars.

And the most treacherous journey?
Definitely the journey from China to the UAE. We had to use the second biggest semi-submersible vessel in the world.

What/where is the most difficult terrain?  
Crossing Sheikh Zayed Road in the UAE, blocking main highway traffic from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. The full journey took three nights, all between 12 am and 4 am, with police protection and government permits required.