Friday, June 10, 2011

Move One Logistics Describe How to Manage Freight in Afghanistan

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AFGHANISTAN – Everyone who works in the freight industry has their fair share of stories and tales about the job. From incompetent forklift drivers, bombastic transport managers and obnoxious customs officials, we’ve all seen it all. But compared to Richard Tagg at Move One Logistics Kabul office, it’s not quite in the same league.

“We have been fortunate not to have been involved in any of the seriously unpleasant incidents and have made many friends, both in a business and personal context,” he says modestly.

With four expat staff and 29 full time local nationals, Richard detailed how the local team both live and work on-site in downtown Kabul, with living quarters upstairs and offices on street level. From this central location staff uses drivers to travel to the multiple ministries and government departments they need to coordinate with on a daily basis.

Through their network, the office deals with nearly all of the region’s major camps, including Camp Phoenix, Camp Eggers and Camp Alvarado, as well as Kabul International Airport (KAIA). The largest volume and highest profile jobs are typically the cargo flights into KAIA, which will occupy the entire team for two days out of an average week.

With eleven offices in Afghanistan, Move One provides a range of logistical services to the various military missions, private companies and embassies in the country. They are also the approved service contractor for United Parcel Service (UPS) in Afghanistan, and have developed an expertise in moving fragile and perishable produce into some of the most remote and challenging environments on Earth. For one longstanding client alone, Move One transports an average of 345 tons of food each month into Kabul, project managing everything from the necessary customs clearance to securing cargo aircraft.

Because of the ‘local problems’ that can stall deliveries - code for blown up / stolen - the company has also developed the capability to move cargoes of more than 90 tons of food from Europe in order to provide relief to halted supply chains.

Dealing with customs requirements in an area with such a fluid regulatory environment, across both military and civilian jurisdictions, requires an enormously diverse skill set that Richard and his team have come to master.

When asked about the particular challenges that come with working in the region, by far the top of Richard’s list was adapting to and complying with security regulations. Access to any of the military bases requires preapproval and planning at least 72 hours in advance, which can be a major concern when dealing with perishables or time-sensitive shipments.

Nearly all logistics projects are, to some degree, hostage to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, but there aren’t many places where this would be truer than in Kabul. KAIA was recently locked down for over a week due to an incidence of suicide bombing and shooting, requiring radical revisions to delivery schedules and routes on zero notice.

Richard also gave a few examples of less belligerent, but potentially equally stymying obstacles that anyone new to the region would be unlikely to anticipate. The difference in the working week between international offices can be a major stumbling point for the unprepared, as local government and ministry departments do not work on Thursdays and Fridays, whilst European and American offices do not work on Saturdays and Sundays.

Another aspect that few are prepared for is the extremity of the weather, particularly in the rugged and remote areas that the team has to regularly service the year around. In winter, the mountain passes can be closed because of heavy snow, whilst in the same location in summer the temperature will regularly exceed 50 degrees Celsius.

However, despite these problems Richard also points out that Kabul is generally a richly varied and interesting place to live and work.

“The whole team is first rate, and together with the expat staff we work in a highly collegial, almost family atmosphere. Despite the challenges, Kabul is easily the most enjoyable and stimulating place I have worked over my 30 years in the logistics industry,” he said.