Dry cargo broker Essam Bella, the managing director of Clarksons Platou in Dubai, has died after falling ill with Covid-19.

Close contacts said Bella died in Egypt, where he had fallen sick in early January while on a business trip. His family was with him at the time that he died.

Clarksons chief executive Andi Case said: "Essam was a much-loved colleague and friend to so many. He had an amazing aura of calm, and yet full of energy and tenacity, he was wonderfully charismatic — constantly laughing and smiling.

"The Clarksons family is devastated at his loss. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences are with Essam’s family and loved ones."

Bella was remembered fondly by industry peers in both Dubai and the UK. They described him as a “nice guy” who “was always smiling and willing to assist anyone who asked for his help”.

In the early 2000s, Bella established a small shipbroking shop in Dubai that teamed up with Clarksons in 2004 at a time when hardly any other major brokers had set up in the United Arab Emirates city.

Office space was so scarce that for the first year Clarksons Dubai operated out of a hotel.

"Essam was the beginning of the broker market here at that time. The internationals were not here. He came with quite an aggressive approach," said Jasmin Fichte, managing partner of law firm Fichte&Co.

She considered Bella one of her closest industry friends.

"He was a true international broker but he understood how the business was conducted here," she said. "He did very well. He brought in big business for Clarksons and established it as a big player in the market."

Clarksons Dubai quickly grew into the largest shipbroking shop in the Middle East and is the fourth largest in the Clarksons Platou portfolio.

The office handles the Middle East, India, Egypt and Morocco, focusing specifically on broking services in dry cargo, specialised products, sales and purchase, and the offshore markets.

Rashid Isa Rishi Al Heddi, group managing director of Dubai-based agency and offshore company Seamaster Maritime, and another close friend of Bella, described him as man of his word and said his success was due in a large part to his honesty and integrity.

“His handshake was as good a commitment as a written word,” he said. “Essam blazed across Middle East shipping as a titan whose contributions to the industry will always be remembered fondly.”

'Noble, kind friend'

Bella played an active role in the UAE shipping scene, sitting on committees and industry bodies, and taking part in conference and trade delegations abroad.

He was also a member of the board of the Emirates Maritime Arbitration Centre.

"I have special memories of him as part of the Dubai Maritime City Authority delegations to Hamburg, where he shined in meeting shipping industry greats and brought a lot of credibility and recognition to UAE and Dubai in particular," Al Heddi recalled.

And while Bella's contributions to UAE shipping will be sorely missed, his industry friends and peers such as Fichte and Al Heddi claim it is his kindness and companionship they will miss the most.

“He was a person I just loved to meet in a cafe to exchange information with and to have a good laugh,” Fichte said.

"I lost a good, noble, kind friend who gave more than he received to anyone he came across," Al Heddi lamented.

Before joining Clarksons, Bella ran a London-based shipbroker called Khadivia with a business partner from his native Egypt.

Bella made headlines last year when he was accused by Egyptian authorities of bribing a state-owned business in exchange for shipping tenders.

Although held in police custody for a period, he was eventually released and the case against him never reached a formal conclusion.

Many shipping peers in Dubai firmly believe that he was a victim of a set-up.

“We always thought he was framed,” Fichte said. “Going into prison for $2,000? It was obvious that he stepped on the toes of somebody who didn’t like him very much.”

TradeWinds understands that Bella also supported an orphanage in Sudan.