Esperance port operator Southern Ports has appointed former Dampier Port Boss Steve Lewis as its new Chief Executive after a six-month search.

Mr Lewis’ appointment comes after the resignation of former Southern Ports Chief Executive Nicolas Fertin in June.

The last year of Mr Fertin’s leadership was highlighted by a number of challenges, including redundancies in Esperance’s stevedoring division, a now concluded Worksafe investigation into alleged bullying within the organisation and the threat last year of losing its biggest customer — Cleveland-Cliffs’ Yilgarn iron ore business.

New Ports Minister Alannah MacTiernan, announcing Mr Lewis’ appointment yesterday, acknowledged Southern Ports had gone through a “difficult period”.

Mr Lewis has spent 15 years managing ports across regional WA and Queensland, most recently as interim chief executive of the Mid-West Ports Authority, with Ms MacTiernan hailing him as one of Australia’s most experienced port chiefs.

“Steve has a long history in regional WA having previously worked at Dampier Port Authority, where he was instrumental in growing the port’s base turnover from $3.5 million in 2003 to $86.4 million in June 2014,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“He has a strong record in developing positive relationships with both port users and staff.”

Southern Ports, which also operates the Bunbury and Albany ports, ships more than 33.5 million tonnes of product a year from WA’s southern coast, including grain, iron ore, lithium, nickel, wood chips and alumina.

In a statement, the body’s Chairman Rob Cole thanked interim Chief Executive Alan Byers for his role running the organisation since June, which included managing the resumption of iron ore exports through Esperance with new Koolyanobbing mine owner Mineral Resources.

Two Bunbury-based business people have also been added to the Southern Ports board, with the authority’s former Chief Financial Officer John Barratt and Human Resources Consultant Jane Andel replacing Anthony Willinge and Peter Iancov.

Mr Lewis will take the reins at Southern Ports next Monday.

Image: Southern Ports, The West Australian.