Middle EastPorts and Logistics

Bowled over again by poor crisis response

When it popped in my inbox it took a couple of watches to get my head around it. As I am sure with the 80,000-odd of you who have watched our CCTV footage of the May 4 collapse of a crane at DP World’s flagship Jebel Ali terminal in Dubai, it takes a second (or third) viewing to piece together what is happening and to stop and pause how on earth no one died from this carnage.

However, what gets me – as a journalist – from this incident (which sources tell me is likely to cost DP World and its insurers north of $35m) is the delayed reaction from its corp comms team (and indeed those in the operations room, who as far as I can tell were more interested in the day’s cricket news from India).

The accident, which, let’s face it, was massive in scale, happened on a Thursday. It was on the following Monday – four days later – that the video cropped up in my email. Naturally I got in touch with the PR folk at DP World HQ straight away. It was only at this prodding that a statement went out.

My point in all of this – not unlike my rant about South Korea’s Polaris Shipping a month ago – is that it is better to be on the front foot and straight up about accidents like this, as with social media, etc sooner or later we, the press, will always be on to these big stories.

“A crane collapsed today at Jebel Ali’s Terminal 1 following a collision with a containership. There were 10 minor injuries and no pollution was reported. DP World emergency teams reacted fast to the incident. An investigation into the incident has now started. The terminal is expected to return to normal operations shortly.”

A simple, prompt statement like that issued in the hours following the accident would have made small headlines around the world, but would not have spurred the huge interest that has happened in the wake of our video being posted. Shipping remains very poor at crisis communications. 

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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