14 November 2018 09:35
Udompattana Samutsakhon helps ensure that fish from Thailand reaches locations around the world
Economics & Logistics
There is demand for fish from Thailand from around the world – from neighbouring Laos as much as from Europe. The family-owned and operated company Udompattana Samutsakhon near Bangkok makes sure there is always a reliable supply. The Actros is used for many of their deliveries.
The morning sun shines so brightly that the temple complex with the golden Buddha on the far bank of the Tha Chin river can only be made out in outline. Even the fishing cutter coming in towards the quay wall is only visible through squinted eyes. And then everything happens very quickly: as soon as the wooden boat has docked, a man wearing a camouflage hat has hooked a long metal contraption over the boat’s railing so, that it slants down onto the quay’s concrete deck. Already the first plastic basket is coming down the slide. Inside: fresh fish from the Gulf of Thailand, just a few kilometres downstream.
“Fishing has been an important source of income here for generations,” says Thongchai Suwanchai. By “here” he means the Thai province of Samut Sakhon. The provincial capital of the same name is 45 kilometres southwest of the national capital Bangkok. Less than half an hour later, a total of seven wooden cutters have docked at the quay of the Samut Sakhon Fish Market and unloaded last night’s catch, all using the same metal slides.
“Fishing has been an important source of income here for generations.”
– Thongchai „Top“ Suwanchai (l.) and Amornrat Wuthichat, Udompattana Samutsakhon
Under a corrugated iron roof, an army of workers is busy sorting the fish on metal tables and distributing them to different-coloured baskets with skilled moves they have obviously practised a thousand times. Pickup trucks and vans with refrigerated boxes come through at regular intervals. Some of the deliveries go to nearby restaurants and markets. However, a large proportion is destined for customers abroad; Thailand is, after all, one of the world’s largest exporters of fish and seafood. The first stops for these perishable goods are therefore the many seafood-processing companies in the provincial capital.
For Thongchai Suwanchai – or “Top”, in typical Thai shorthand – fishing is also of vital importance. The 37-year-old often becomes part of the supply chain after the processing companies have done their job: once the catch – ranging from tuna to grouper – has been frozen, or sometimes already portioned and canned. “Top” then organises the onward transportation, mostly on behalf of the exporters: his role is that of managing director of Udompattana Samutsakhon, the largest transport services provider in the province, with a fleet of 120 trucks.
“Many of the deliveries go to the port of Bangkok in refrigerated containers,” explains Top on a short drive from the fish market to the company headquarters. An equally important destination is Laem Chabang: it is Thailand’s port recording the highest transhipment volume, located about 170 kilometres further southeast, also on the Gulf of Thailand. “From both these cities, cargo is exported to the Middle East, Europe and even the United States.” Added to that are the many customers in the neighbouring country of Laos. Truck drivers travel about 700 kilometres on the motorway heading north to reach the Laotian capital Vientiane.
Established in 1991, the company Udompattana Samutsakhon has been undergoing constant change ever since. The “pattana” part of the company name broadly translates as “development” – and it is an integral part of the company’s mission. One of the most recent moves was the purchase of eight Actros in 2017: “We chose these vehicles because of their reliability, good performance and low fuel consumption. And they are doing exceedingly well,” reports Top. The trucks have the 3344 configuration with two driven axles, which is common on the Thai transport sector. They are used on the short transfers to the ports as well as for long hauls.
The actros as an image ambassador.
Serving as robust transport vehicles is not the only role of these trucks. They also act as diesel-powered image ambassadors: “In Thailand the name Mercedes has a real wow effect,” says the entrepreneur, whose drivers transport not only fish and other frozen foods, but also beverages, cement and steel. “The drivers are particularly proud to be driving these trucks.” In a market that is quite naturally dominated by commercial vehicles made in Asia, the eight Actros now working for Top’s company may be the first bearing the star, but they certainly won’t be the last: “We’re planning to integrate additional Mercedes trucks into our fleet.”
In addition to transportation, there are two other mainstays to Udompattana’s business. It comes as no surprise that they also have to do with fish. Both of them are located in a warehouse complex that was built alongside the freight forwarding premises only a few years ago. Top heaves open a safety door and takes us on a guided tour. At temperatures just above freezing, the place is a hive of activity. Forklift trucks carry pallets and lattice boxes full of tuna to the loading docks. Orders are shouted into walkie-talkies, delivery notes are signed. “From there, we provide the industry with comprehensive logistics services.” In addition to handling and transhipment, these also include the freezing and warehousing of goods.
“In Thailand the name Mercedes has a real wow effect.”
– Thongchai „Top“ Suwanchai
The third mainstay can be viewed on a roofed area in the open yard, where staff are busy salting jellyfish pulled from the waters off southern Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar. They are primarily destined for export to Japan and China. “We employ a total of around 400 people in our three business divisions,” says Top, who has worked for the company for a decade-and-a-half and has seen considerable growth in that time. But there are no plans at the moment to make the company grow any more, he says, back on the concrete apron in front of the warehouse. “For now we would rather concentrate on optimising our services further.”
Udompattana is a family-owned company, and the “udom” part of the name refers to Top’s grandfather, even though it was actually his uncle who founded the company. He is still a member of the management board today. Top’s cousin rounds off the executive level. At least on the days when she is not working in her job as a dentist – now that is multitasking for you! It is also one of Top’s qualities. “In a company like ours, it comes naturally that you end up dealing with a large variety of issues.” No sooner said, he jumps on his moped and tootles off under a blazing sun. There is a meeting with the drivers to attend to. Transporting fish could well be on the agenda.
Photos & video: Alexander Tempel