Inroads into Africa


After more than two decades of successful operation in South Africa, ICA Bulk Logistics MD Renée Smith, has her sights firmly set on expanding the firm’s footprint.

Africa has shown consistent growth over the last 35 years and the continent’s tank container volumes are on the rise as the market increasingly awakens to their multimodal and cost benefits.
“We see Africa as a market of remarkable opportunity. Undoubtedly, poor roads, infrastructure and port congestion are amongst the challenges, but we believe many of these can be overcome and remain confident that ICA Bulk Logistics can, and will, make significant inroads into this vibrant market.”
Smith, a shareholder since 2011 and at the helm of ICA Bulk Logistics for 15 years, is determined to focus on Africa’s ‘’pockets of potential’’ and views the chemicals industry as one of those pockets.
“Despite uncertain politics, unstable energy supplies and volatile currency exchange rates, the chemicals industry in Africa is booming. Demand for hazardous chemicals is also on the rise and a 10% growth is projected for 2021.”
Africa’s chemicals industry is vast and an important component of South Africa’s industrial base, covering a range of sectors from fuels and plastic fabrication to pharmaceuticals. Smith believes that South Africa, as a world leader in synthetic coal-based and natural gas-based liquid fuels and petrochemicals, has the potential to play an even more important role in growing these industries on the continent.
Concrete steps have already been taken for ICA Bulk Logistics to gain a stronger foothold in Africa. In addition to its offices in major shipping ports in South Africa, it has also appointed agents in West and East Africa. “We are well placed to serve the chemical, gas and food sectors in these markets and have ensured that we have the expertise and versatility needed to offer our customers a complete, and tailor-made, logistical solution.”
According to Smith, ICA Bulk Logistics’ expertise and experience lies in the global transportation of liquids, chemicals and gases and in adding further value by offering leasing, static storage, a supervised, door-to-door logistics solution and equipment management as part of the package.
As a small dynamic team, the company’s service and approach to business is highly personalised, a feature Smith regards as essential.
“There is no doubt this is a business where strong, positive relationships and effective communication make the difference.”
These attributes have also played a key role in helping ICA Bulk Logistics manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business. Smith has nothing but praise for her highly motivated team of five – and the support of majority shareholder, Unipalm Investment Holdings.
“My team has risen to every challenge and we have emerged, stronger and more motivated.
“As a small team, we found it fairly easy to adapt to the new way of working remotely. Collaboration has increased and we have made a point of not only meeting online daily, but also of supporting one another in both work-related and personal matters.”
A temporary setback on the financial front – when the transportation of certain key products was prohibited during Level 5 lockdown – was used as an opportunity to invest in training and staff development and the early renewal of international Dangerous Goods certifications.
Staying abreast of regulations is a priority for Smith and her team. “While the transportation of dangerous goods by sea is highly governed by the UN IMDG Code, greater harmonisation of regulations for road transportation in Africa, in particular, is required for greater compliance, consistency, safety and maintaining a smooth supply chain.”
Smith says supply chains have become increasingly complex because of the increase in both the volumes and types of dangerous goods being transported and stored, and every effort needs to be made to reduce risks to an absolute minimum whilst optimising transit times.
Looking ahead
All indications point to an expanding global tank container fleet in the years ahead as shippers recognise the benefits of transporting their cargoes in tank containers (in favour of drums or parcel tankers).
ICA Bulk Logistics is well placed to be part of this growth trend and Smith says its focus will centre around three main areas – safety, the environment and efficiency.
“With this in mind, we are currently working on two exciting new projects, due for launch in 2021 and which are confidential for now. They will involve cryogenic gases and providing a tailor-made solution for fuel emissions.”
Smith believes Unipalm Investment Holdings’ decision to purchase a 70% in ICA Bulk Logistics in 2015, has given the company the platform – and the capital – it needs to pursue and realise its growth ambitions.
Unipalm – which describes itself as a South African company focused on South African opportunities for South African people – was founded in 2001.
The company, which represents more than 30,000 shareholders, has stakes in several blue-chip South African companies, including technology, media and telecoms giants Telkom, Vodacom and MTN, in construction giant Civils2000 as well as Growthpoint Properties. Its sole investment in the supply chain and logistics sector is in ICA Bulk.
Unipalm’s vision of creating more opportunities for South Africans is one which resonates strongly with Smith, who joined ICA Bulk Logistics two years after the company was founded in 1999 after several years in commercial ships agency and in the clearing and forwarding sectors.
ºAnd while Smith may have logistics as her key business focus, her real passion is people and her unwavering commitment to supporting her staff and providing opportunities for them strongly defines her leadership.
She is excited about the company’s growth prospects as a member of the Unipalm group and believes the shareholder’s financial acumen and strategic focus will continue play a key role in ICA Bulk Logistics’ growth.
“Ebrahim Khan, a director of ICA Bulk Logistics and of Unipalm’s Executive and Investment Committee, is a strong believer in the potential of the logistics sector and his strategic vision and support will continue to open up doors for ICA Bulk Logistics to get involved in larger projects, not only in Africa but across the globe.
“We are particularly keen on increasing our involvement in projects in the wine and spirit, chemical, compressed and cryogenic bulk markets.”
Smith says ICA Bulk Logistics has had a long standing and successful association with Paltank UK to export and import large volumes of wine and other alcoholic beverages globally.
“Utilising newbuild tank containers from South Africa is a double win for the South African industry because both the tank container, and its contents, are high value exports.”
ICA Bulk Logistics may have global and African aspirations, but the company is equally committed to growing its business on home soil. In 2019, the company opened a new office in Durban and appointed Dinesh Balgobind as Operations Manager. Smith says “Dinesh has been such an exciting addition to our team. His extensive technical experience in the tank container market and his strong operational knowledge and customer relationships have been a huge asset.”
South Africa-born and bred Smith is also decidedly ‘proudly South African’ when speaking about the quality of locally manufactured tank containers. “Despite strong competition from China, South Africa continues to produce about 10% of the world’s tank containers and the units are held in high regard by those looking for a high quality, robust unit. The South African tank container market may be small in comparison to other parts of the world, but we have flown, and will continue to fly, the South African flag high.”
ICA Bulk Logistics is keen to partner with like-minded companies who wish to play a key role in increasing trade into and out of the continent.

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