Monday, April 6, 2020

All of Logistics is Stepping Up to Maintain Supply Chains and Beat the Covid-19 Crisis

From Birmingham to Benghazi and Beijing to Bratislava Our Industry Performs
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – So, with all the self-acclaiming plaudits from stakeholders in the trade that the logistics industry continues to work through and keep the whole of society supplied by maintaining reliable supply chains, let's take a look at just a few of the instances around the globe of how sector players are actually helping the situation as the count of confirmed virus cases, and sadly the death toll, keep rising.

Everybody is looking to show what they are doing to help, in this first case two familiar names share the plaudits for importing much needed medical equipment for the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. Supporting the work of the charitable Virgin Unite Foundation, a Virgin Atlantic B787-9 fully loaded with PPE (Personal Protection Equipment), virus testing tubes, goggles and ventilator parts landed at Heathrow Airport on Friday evening (April 3).

Manned by seven pilots and four cabin crew, the aircraft carried over 350,000 items of essential PPE supplies and medical equipment including respirators, ventilator parts, face masks, scrubs, aprons and eye protection in both the hold and in the cabin of the aircraft. These essential items will help keep NHS heroes working on the frontline safe and will support patients who are in great need. Dominic Kennedy, Managing Director of Virgin Atlantic Cargo, commented:

“We are incredibly grateful to the NHS for everything they are doing for the nation in extremely challenging circumstances, as they respond to the Covid-19 crisis. We’re pleased we can play a part in supporting them, by bringing crucial supplies into the UK. With special thanks to the British Embassy in Beijing, the CAA and the UK Government in expediting clearances to make this possible.

“Despite a decrease in passengers travelling, demand to transport cargo remains strong, keeping global supply chains running and transporting essential supplies around the world. We’re looking forward to continuing to partner with the Department for Health and the NHS, working with them on a number of flights over the next few weeks, to bring in the supplies that the teams here in the UK urgently need to care for patients. Thanks also to Guy’s and St Thomas’ for their support in helping to organise this.”

Once on the ground the vital supplies were distributed by CEVA Logistics whose teams in UK and Shanghai had worked together to bring almost 1,100 cartons of supplies on the special flight. Altogether there were 12,600 medical isolation goggles, 500 body bags, 30,000 filters for ventilators, 100,000 aprons, 10,000 sets of scrubs and 7,500 samples tubes for virus testing on /board.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ (GSTT) is among the UK’s busiest NHS Foundation Trusts and one of the largest in the country. Its supply chain team operate the largest hospital inventory system in Europe with a track record for innovation and service improvement. The Trust has an annual turnover of £1.5 billion and employs over 16,200 staff. Over the last year CEVA says it has worked to build a trusting relationship with GSTT, through which it not only develops a robust healthcare supply chain, but also supports GSTT's focus on improving patient outcomes. CEVA’s CEO, Mathieu Friedberg observed:

“These medical supplies and PPE equipment are urgently required to support the work that NHS teams are providing up and down the country during the Covid-19 crisis. Our CEVA teams at both ends of the supply chain, alongside the Virgin team providing the uplift and the Virgin Foundation, have worked together tirelessly to make this become a reality in an incredibly short timeframe”.

Special UK CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) permission had to be obtained by Virgin Atlantic to carry part of the shipment on the seats of its passenger cabin, with the rest of the cargo in the belly of the aircraft. Steve Buckerfield, Director Sales, Cargo at Virgin Atlantic, added:

“We’re proud to have joined forces with the CEVA Logistics teams in Shanghai and London to expedite this urgently-needed shipment of medical equipment to the heroes working in the NHS. At a time when frontline doctors and nurses are working so hard to save lives, it’s essential they have the supplies they need to stay safe and to protect patients in their care.

“With medical supplies being sourced from around the world, the air cargo and logistics industries have a vital role to play in making sure equipment reaches where it is required safely and immediately to help save the lives of patients and reduce the spread of Covid-19. I also want to say a massive ‘thank you’ to the Virgin Atlantic team who enabled us to complete this special flight for the NHS so quickly and efficiently.”

The emergence of Covid-19 has led to Virgin Atlantic operating cargo-only flights, a first for the airline since its launch in 1984. Special exemptions from the imposed travel restrictions are in place for pilots and cabin crew, whose health and wellbeing the company emphasises remains its top priority, meaning that cargo operations can continue, ensuring the airline can continue to support vital supply chains across the globe.

Virgin Atlantic is one of several Virgin Group companies supporting the NHS in its response to the Covid-19 outbreak. The airline’s highly skilled people have been approached to volunteer at several initiatives including the new NHS Nightingale Hospital, the London Ambulance Service other NHS Hospitals and for the NHS Volunteer Responders. Jean Oelwang, Founding CEO and President of Virgin Unite, the charitable foundation of the Virgin Group, echoed the thoughts of everyone, saying:

“Millions of first responders, nurses, doctors, and other NHS staff are working tirelessly day and night on the frontlines of this crisis. They are true heroes in this crisis and we are humbled to have the opportunity to get this much needed equipment to them.”

The exporters in Shanghai certainly seem to be getting the best out of the situation, French freight forwarding outfit (and now part of Russian Railways) GEFCO also started their own rescue mission there, transporting a large shipment of medical supplies on special charter flights from Shanghai to Bratislava to help Penta Health tackle Covid-19 in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The deliveries took place from March 31-April 01 using two Boeing 787 planes that were temporarily converted to carry cargo. The aircraft were loaded with more than 64 tonnes of medical supplies, including 6 million face masks, 20,000 respirators and 8,000 non-contact thermometers, as well as 60 pallets of vitamins and food supplements. On arrival, the shipments were unloaded, sorted and palletised by GEFCO at Bratislava Airport for overland distribution to Penta’s network of Dr. Max pharmacies and Svet Zdravia / Pro Care hospitals in the two countries.

Slovakia and the neighbouring Czech Republic are the first two countries in Europe to impose mandatory mask-wearing and have over 3,000 cases of the virus to date and Ladislav Balogh, Country Manager, GEFCO Air & Sea, who supervised the operation commented:

“These supplies are acutely needed to protect our citizens in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I’m very proud of my team, who consolidated the cargo from seven different suppliers in China, organised all the export documents and coordinated the dispatch by two charter flights to Bratislava, all in record time. Their safety is of course paramount and we’re doing everything we can to maintain this.”

“Earlier this year, after watching a TV report on the spread of Covid-19 in China and the shortage of protective face masks, I wrote to my Chinese colleagues to ask whether they needed help in procuring them. Our local Air & Sea teams ordered protective masks and arranged their transport to Hong Kong. We had no idea that six weeks later we would handle the consignment of medical supplies in the opposite direction and in much larger volumes.”

Another French headquartered group taking care if business is Bolloré Logistics which has created a Health Crisis unit made up of the company’s pharma and life science experts. It is piloting an epidemic response plan providing graduated solutions and making decisions very quickly in the event of an increase in the epidemic and new government directives proper alignment and validation with regulators and international standardisation bodies.

An alternative transport plan based on charters and freighters solutions is being implemented to ensure continuity of service. Based on both charters / part charters and hard block space capacities on freighter flights only, solutions on Eastbound and Westbound flows are piloted on a daily basis to adapt needs to capacities, maximising operations through the Bolloré air cargo hubs. Several charters are being implemented with tested and secure solutions via the hubs under GDP, GMP and CEIV certification, from Miami for Latin America, Singapore for Asia, Canada and Chicago for North America, Roissy Charles de Gaulle, Liege and Luxembourg for Europe and Africa.

In addition, a new multimodal service has opened between production sites in the USA and Europe to Asia. Products are first shipped by air to be consolidated in the Singapore hub, a new cross-docking centre recently created for this specific purpose. Products are then carried by sea freight from Singapore to the South East Asia markets in temperature-controlled reefer containers. A track and trace system, Link, guarantees visibility of operations in real time via geolocation, along with the monitoring of the temperature shipments during transport. The Bolloré Logistics Competence Centre operates 24/7 to monitor the flow of goods and prevent any disruption in the supply chain.

Meanwhile, logistics specialist Move One has completed a B737F charter to Benghazi of urgently required food stuffs for a long time European partner from Paris. The solution included collection of the cargo by reefer trucks in the Netherlands, cross-border trucking to France, airport and aircraft handling, cold storage, permit negotiations, and chartered airlift to Benghazi, Libya. The food was received, inspected, and approved immediately upon arrival and the operation was a success. The company says it is expecting subsequent operations in the weeks to come, and it has longer term aspirations of opening a new station in Benghazi in the months to follow.

The Humber Ports, when combined, make up the biggest port complex in the UK and include Immingham, the largest port in the country by tonnage. Little known outside of the port sector, it has for many years been treated by the Government as an asset with Critical National Infrastructure status. The reasons for this are simple. If the Port of Immingham were to shut down, so too would many aspects of life for people across much of the nation. 25% of the UK’s refined oil which puts fuel in our vehicles, 10% of the nation’s electricity power, and significant proportions of UK food, clothing and medical supplies reach where they need to be via Immingham’s port.

Hence during this time of lockdown, Associated British Ports (ABP) says has had to pull out all the stops to keep the Humber Ports going and keep Britain trading. Whilst most people across the country are acclimatising to the realities of the lockdown, for many, staying at home is not an option. Alongside the emergency services, port workers are part of the army of key workers helping to keep the nation functioning.

Fundamental to keeping the ports running is the role played by ABP’s Marine Team. Over 100 marine pilots work 24/7 to navigate ships safely into port. They work in all conditions and have to climb the sides of huge vessels to board and take control for the final leg of the journey into the UK. It is highly skilled and essential work, without which none of ABP’s other operations could be carried out. It has therefore been crucial to care for the pilots as much as possible through this crisis and they have risen to the challenge admirably.

So far, not a single ship has missed its window or even been delayed coming into or out of the Humber Ports during the crisis. Testimony to the dedication of the marine pilots, ably assisted by their colleagues in the Vessel Traffic Services who operate, in effect like air traffic control for shipping movements in the Humber.

Getting the vessels into port is only the beginning of the story. ABP, like ports around the world, has hundreds of port operatives whose roles are many and varied, using an arsenal of equipment from high-tech cranes to low-tech forklifts and many machines in between. They are being maintained through this crisis by hundreds of engineers employed by ABP, who also work 24/7, often literally to keep the wheels oiled.

Whilst there may be evidence of panic buying in some shops, ABP reports that, due to the efforts of staff manning the country’s ports, cargo is still flowing well through the gateways to trade in the Humber, and everything possible is being done to get Britain through this most difficult of times.

Another port related body which is concentrating the efforts of its sector to help manage the situation is the World Ports Sustainability Program which, in response to requests from members of the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), has set up a Task Force comprising some of the world's top experts to inform and guide the port authorities and users alike via a newly-established World Ports Covid19 Information Portal.

The Task Force will be headed up by Tessa Major, IAPH Vice-President for Central and South America and Director of International Business and Innovation at the Brazilian Port of Açu. The Task Force includes multidisciplinary port experts and professionals from the ports of Açu, Antwerp, Busan, Felixstowe, Guangzhou, London, Los Angeles and Rotterdam as well as Maritime Street, a consultancy specialised in digital trade logistics.

In addition, to keep track of the economic implications, two internationally-renowned port economists, Professor Theo Notteboom (Shanghai Maritime University, Ghent University and University of Antwerp) and Professor Thanos Pallis (University of the Aegean and Universidad de Los Andes), will be working in the production of a weekly economic impact barometer. The five main questions being permanently addressed and updated are :

  • What is the current operational status of ports worldwide?
  • Where can I find information as a ship owner on port regulations and restrictions?
  • Where do I find operational guidance as a port based on global best practice?
  • What support should I as a port request from my government?
  • What is the economic impact on the global port sector?

The portal features latest industry updates based on a daily screening of reports from individual ports, port associations, shipping organisations, governments, international regulators and specialised news outlets. IAPH managing director Dr Patrick Verhoeven concluded:

"The operation of ports is of vital importance to face the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. Ports ensure that the world’s medical supplies, food, energy raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components vital to the preservation of employment, continue to reach their intended destinations. We will play our part in assisting our members and the maritime community through this Task Force and information portal."

We reported at the end of March on the deployment of the two US hospital ships USNS Comfort to New York and USNS Mercy to Los Angeles to ease pressures on the local health services. The Comfort had been stationed in the Big Apple last in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks where it helped treat hundreds of first responders.

This time, to prepare the Manhattan Cruise Terminal for her arrival, dredging company Donjon Marine of Hillside, New Jersey deepened Berth 4 to a depth of 40 feet with a crew of 60 workers operating twenty-four hours each day across two shifts. This saw the project remove 92,000 cubic yards of material in just eight days rather than the normal two weeks. The Clamshell Bucket Dredge Delaware Bay was supported by three US flagged dump scow barges and three tugboats, completing the job in record time.

The efforts of all involved in ensuring the two hospital ships could be smoothly deployed were applauded by the American Maritime Partnership which praised the tug assists required to put the two vessels safely on their berths, Comfort by Moran Towing, assisted by McAllister Towing in New York City and Mercy by Foss Maritime alongside AmNav Maritime Corporation.

Stationed in the Port of Los Angeles and Pier 90 in Manhattan, the hospital ships are treating non-Covid-19 patients, providing a full spectrum of medical care to include general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults. The availability of these vessels is relieving the pressure on local hospitals by enabling local health professionals to focus on treating Covid-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their Intensive Care Units and ventilators for those patients.

Back in Britain the Rail Freight Group has been quick to point out the volume of vital supplies being carried on the country’s tracks as passenger services are cut and freight movement assumes an importance usually hidden from sight. Every 24 hours throughout the coronavirus crisis,188,000 tonnes of critical supplies, including food, fuel and medicine, are being moved by rail between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.

That’s 1.13 million tonnes every week, most of it transported along the West Coast main line (WCML), the busiest mixed-use (passenger and freight) railway in Europe, and its key spurs. With the importance of rail suddenly thrown into sharp focus, nowhere is this more in evidence than Network Rail’s North West & Central (NW&C) region, known in the trade as the ‘Backbone of Britain.’

As the coronavirus pandemic goes on, Network Rail’s priority is to keep vital supply routes, notably the West Coast main line and its key arteries, open. Critical to this are frontline specialists, such as signallers, without whom the railway cannot operate. Tim Shoveller, managing director for North West & Central, said:

“Rail freight has never mattered more than now for the people of Britain. Our job is to continue moving critical supplies where they’re needed, keeping supermarket shelves stocked, hospital medicine cupboards full, power stations fuelled. Our frontline ‘key workers’, including signallers, control room staff and track engineers are the hidden heroes in this national team effort. They are helping NHS medics to save lives and keeping shop shelves stocked, and I’m proud of them.”

Freight also plays a crucial role in keeping the country’s lights on. Trains carry biomass from Liverpool docks to the Drax power station in Yorkshire, as well as petroleum from Scotland to Dalston in Cumbria and from Humberside to Kingsbury Oil Terminal in the West Midlands. Royal Mail trains continue to take parcels and post between Wembley and Shieldmuir, Glasgow.

As Scotland does not have any deep-sea ports, it relies on freight services through NW&C to keep its shops stocked. Every 24 hours, 18,500 tonnes of bananas, pasta, loo roll and other essentials pass over the England- Scottish border at Gretna in freight trains. Next day, those goods can be found on sale in supermarkets and high street shops. Freight companies are looking at how they can reconfigure the schedules in order to get more containers per multimodal train to meet a forecast rise in demand over coming weeks and months. Maggie Simpson, director general of Rail Freight Group, said:

“The rail freight industry is working flat out to make sure essential supplies are available on supermarket shelves, that the lights stay on and that the warehouses have all the goods we need for online shopping. It is a real testament to all our staff, and those at Network Rail and across the railway for keeping up with changing demand and helping the whole of the UK in these difficult times.”

Photo: Tugs assist the USNS Mercy to her berth in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Foss Maritime.