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KUWAIT - Energy & Mining

Assaf Al-Salem

Managing Director, Tharwa Kuwait


Assaf Al-Salem is Managing Director of Tharwa Kuwait.

“Our main focus is to be an active consultant for international companies in Kuwait.”
TBY talks to Assaf Al-Salem, Managing Director of Tharwa Kuwait, about the country’s construction sector, the environment, and new opportunities.
What is the main focus of Tharwa, and what role does it play in Kuwait’s construction sector?

Tharwa is a subsidiary of a much larger group, though it is fully independent. Our main focus is to be an active consultant for international companies in Kuwait. We believe in using the expertise and technology developed in countries such as China, India, Europe, and the US. We work to resolve technical issues across Kuwait’s entire construction sector, including those related to roads and bridges. Currently, we represent an company that is directly involved in fixing roads without the need for a local company. This approach has proven to be extremely successful for everyone involved. We also completed a large-scale environmental project in collaboration with Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC).

Can you elaborate on Tharwa’s project in collaboration with KPC?

The project is called Kuwait Environmental Remediation Program (KERP) and was established after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. There are significant lakes of oil in Kuwait resulting from the war, and the core of the project tackles these larges manmade environmental disasters. When the Iraqi soldiers left, they deliberately set fire to oil wells, and they were incredibly difficult to extinguish. The sun in Kuwait was completely blocked and was not visible for six months. KERP is funded by the United Nations Compensation Committee, and Kuwait provided a working example to the UN to finalize the payment. It consists of three pilot projects, each with a budget of USD100 million, and Tharwa was involved in one of these projects. We were initially the subcontractor for a company called GS but eventually took over the entire project, and the Korean personnel left the site. We are responsible for supplying the various chemicals, materials, and bacteria necessary for the ongoing project.

What is the current status and scope of Tharwa’s involvement in the KERP project and its partnership with Dow Chemical Corporation?

Tharwa’s involvement in the KERP project and partnership are significant. Based on our project’s findings, we have discovered that the “sand carpet” can be cleaned, containing approximately 10-20% oil. However, the remaining 70-80% resembles a sludge that needs to be disposed of in landfills due to its nature. Tharwa brings its expertise and experience from handling this material for over six years, making us the only Kuwaiti entity with such extensive knowledge. specifically its environmental division, is aimed at addressing this issue. The ongoing project, expected to continue indefinitely, initially targeted the cleaning of 500,000 tons of material within a six-year timeline. However, we were able to successfully clean only 300,000 tons in the given timeframe. The project involves multiple key stakeholders and the process for securing funding includes obtaining approvals for the clean status of the sand pile. These approvals are required from entities such as KPC, the main contractor, and Worley Parsons (formerly AMIC), a foreign project management company. Approval from prominent Kuwaiti companies like Khalid Al-Kharafi and Al Sayegh, who are now involved in the project, is also necessary. These companies have partnered with smaller international mediation firms. Additionally, the approval from the UN is a crucial part of the process. It is important that all stakeholders involved strictly adhere to the rules to ensure that the majority of the sand is genuinely cleaned and not sent to landfill. This is crucial because Kuwait, being a small country, lacks sufficient space for landfill. The risk of seepage into the water table, leading to oil contamination and exacerbating the already high pollution levels, makes it essential to raise awareness about this issue. The involvement of Dow, a renowned organization, and the oversight of the UN contribute significantly to conducting the project in a safe and responsible manner, with a focus on reducing the environmental impact in Kuwait.

What are the main divisions within your company, and what are their specific focuses and projects?

We have two divisions within our company: a supply division and a contracting division. Our contracting focuses on environmental projects, while the supply division mainly provides refinery internals. Currently, there are shutdowns happening in various refineries, and we supply internals for them. Our principals are mainly Italian, including Costacurta from Milan, and have been delivering excellent results. We offer unique solutions to Kuwaiti companies. One example is the project we worked on at an oil refinery in Abdullah. The task involved replacing all the internals, which are these big stacks that consist of various components such as heat exchangers, separators, and oil and gas equipment. The process inside these internals is highly complex, and several of these internals have been damaged. During the last shutdown, which took place last summer, KPC approached us to handle this situation. However, we were unable to meet the extensive supply requirements. We provided the companies with a cost-effective and supervisors from Italy were involved to demonstrate how to repair their terminals without having to fabricate new ones. Our company specializes in providing these solutions, which can be challenging in these complex projects. We also supply a range of other products. Our current main focus is being a boutique company that represents large international organizations offering unique solutions. We specialize in supplying these solutions to the oil and construction sectors. We also cater to the local market by providing high-quality construction chemicals, including materials such as runway tarmac and antibacterial hospital flooring. We have successfully established ourselves as a supplier of specialized products. Additionally, our role extends beyond being agents for international companies. Given the potential changes in regulations under the new administration, we have positioned ourselves as active consultants for these international organizations. We bridge the gap between them and their respective counterparts in Kuwait, facilitating necessary approvals and overcoming cultural differences.

What is your approach when it comes to identifying opportunities?

Five or 10 years ago, our approach was more traditional, focusing on representing international companies and obtaining tender information. However, our current focus has shifted to international companies already established in Kuwait. The approval process alone can take around one year, followed by another year of waiting for the opportunity and then engaging in the bidding process, which often results in losing the bid. Overall, it can take four to five years or even longer as seen in the case for Costacurta, which took eight years. An example of our approach is demonstrated by the American company we worked with for the KERP project. Initially, it was merely a supplier of equipment to a Korean company. We navigated the lengthy approval process on its behalf, and once approved, it transitioned to become the main contractor directly in contact with KPC. Our focus now lies in expanding the presence of companies already operating in Kuwait. By utilizing our understanding of the local requirements, we create opportunities for them to enhance their footprint in the market.



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