The Leading Event for the Project Cargo and Breakbulk Industries in the Middle East


Throwback 1991 with Bechtel’s John Amos who was on the ground in Kuwait to coordinate the mobilization effort to quench the oilfield fires.

In 1991, at the close of the first Gulf War, Bechtel was hired by Kuwait Oil Company to supply material and management personnel to help extinguish the oil well fires raging across the Kuwait oil fields. John Amos, Bechtel’s corporate manager of logistics, was called to London to assist in planning the mobilization effort. A few days later he left London and flew to Dubai, the logistics hub for the project. Here, Amos discusses the logistical challenges Bechtel faced.

The Kuwait oil fires produced an economic and environmental crisis of epic proportion. It required the immediate mobilization of many companies under the overall umbrella of the Kuwait Oil Company. As soon as Iraq’s military forces had been driven north out of Kuwait the immediate priority was how to extinguish 482 burning oil wells that had been set on fire by planted explosives, making the task even more dangerous.

Before logistical plans could be made, it was necessary to mobilize a workforce to determine material requirements and sources. Only then could ships and aircraft be hired. The next problem was that the two Kuwaiti ports were damaged by bombing and some piers blocked by sunken ships. The airport in Kuwait City was also damaged and under the control of U.S. Army special forces who rigidly controlled the arrival of cargo planes. Personnel arrived on charter aircraft including oil well fire fighting companies from more than 20 countries. Housing and mess facilities for hundreds of those arriving was difficult. Electricity and water was not always available and chemical-laden smoke from the fires caused 24-hour darkness.

During this period a large staff was put in place in several locations around the world to plan and execute the movement of cargo into Kuwait. Most cargo arrived at Dubai’s Port of Jebel Ali to be transloaded to feeder ships and barges for movement to Kuwait. Eventually a 24,000 DWT multipurpose vessel was chartered to facilitate the urgent and diverse types of cargo. A dormitory ship was also chartered to house and feed the workers that were rapidly brought in from several countries to work on the fires.

Much of Kuwait’s infrastructure was damaged due to actions by the Iraqi military and U.S. Army and Air Force efforts to rid Kuwait of the Iraqi military forces who also looted a vast amount of local equipment. Amazingly all fires were extinguished within nine months although it was forecasted that it would take two years. This also averted a major flow of crude oil into the Arabian Gulf that would have polluted hundreds of miles of the gulf and Saudi Arabian shoreline.

In retrospect the rapid planning by many companies with experienced management used to dealing with complex issues in managing mega-projects was the key to the successful conclusion of this effort under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions. Companies that focus on this type of work must have detailed procedures in place that can be installed quickly and seasoned management that can deploy quickly and make things happen.