A day in the life of a port and cargo operations manager

With 16 years in the shipping industry, Daniel Dong brings a wealth of experience to his role as port and cargo operations manager at our Shanghai terminal. He explains what it takes to successfully manage complex cargo operations and why agile thinking is critical to the job.

Daniel Dong standing in front of a vessel

Daniel, you have worked for Wallenius Wilhelmsen for eight years. What attracted you to this role?

The opportunity to challenge myself every day and play a key role in the supply chain.

Can you describe a typical working day?

Each day is different. When a vessel is in port, my time is spent tracking the vessel schedule and supervising the cargo handling, making sure everyone on the team has a clear understanding of the plan and policy. On other days I monitor the progress of expected vessels and any changes to upcoming cargo bookings.

You previously worked for a container shipping company – how does a container operation differ from a RoRo operation?

With container operations, a terminal planner can rely on systems and programmes to pick up mistakes, but with RoRo the success of an operation is more dependent on people – you have to be very thorough and carefully study the specifics of every aspect of the operation. A sound knowledge and understanding of the vessel, the cargo, the loading and discharging plan, and the cargo quality policy is essential in overseeing RoRo cargo operations.

What skills have you acquired over the years that benefit you in your current job?

Before joining Wallenius Wilhelmsen, I worked for a smaller company where there were only three terminal planners to manage cargo operations across seven terminals. I was often overseeing three or four vessels at different terminals at one time. Managing a big workload helped me cultivate my problem-solving skills. I am able to identify and solve challenges quickly and efficiently, which helps me in my current role to meet each customer’s unique, and often changing, needs.

Can you give an example of a time when you’ve put your problem-solving skills to the test?

A few months ago, a customer booked a large shipment of breakbulk cargo, but the manufacturer was not familiar with RoRo shipping and as a result, the cargo was not packed according to our policy. With very little time before vessel berthing, I had to work on a cargo modification plan, which I presented to the customer at their warehouse. My plan helped to not only reassure the customer that our solution was safe, but it also ensured the cargo was successfully shipped on time.

Your problem-solving extends beyond managing operations and has been used to help develop new equipment handling solutions such as the double stanchion bolsters. How did you get involved in this project?

I saw an opportunity to use space better and so, drawing on my experience with container vessels, I recommended we create one more tier on board by connecting a 20ft flat rack container to a 20ft flat bolster. The idea was then developed by Per Wallmark, head of breakbulk projects, Asia & Oceania, into the double stanchion bolster plan. I was involved in every step of the trial from selecting the proper cargo and studying how to safely secure it, to evaluating the space saved and identifying ways to improve operations. Overseeing the first shipment using double stanchion bolsters was one of my proudest moments.

What has been the most rewarding project you’ve worked on?

Successfully managing the first Samson loading in Shanghai. The Samson heavy-lift trailer is one of our original designs and is capable of handling breakbulk of up to 220 tonnes. At the time, nobody in China had any Samson handling experience and because of the Covid-19 pandemic my colleague was unable to travel to Shanghai to oversee the loading operation. I had to be taught remotely how to handle the Samson trailer and then share my knowledge with the terminal drivers.

That loading was a proud moment for me, not only because it was a first in China, but because it marked a new chapter for the Shanghai terminal, which previously didn’t cater to oversized and heavy cargo. The terminal has now raised its bridge limitation from 85.7 tonnes to 120 tonnes, opening up new opportunities for breakbulk customers.

What is the secret to successful cargo operations?

Good communication and problem-solving. You need to understand the particular needs and challenges of the customer and be able to effectively communicate them to the team on the ground, from the cargo superintendent to the stevedore.

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