How we moved a complete sulphur plant
Special Project Cargo from Malaysia to Russia in 25 weeks
In 2015 Ahlers moved a sulphur plant 18,000 km from Malyasia (and several other locations) to Russia. We delivered the 62,000 freight tonnes of cargo, much of it oversized, for our client in just 25 weeks beating various set-backs, operational limits, and the onset of a cold Russian winter. Here’s how we did it.
- consisting of 62 000 CBM of mostly oversized equipment
- 140 units between 6 and 8 metres wide
- 68 units between 5 and 8 metres high
- 350 heavily oversized units
- longest unit 48 metres long
- 170 containers
Means of transport
- transport modes: road – sea – inland waterways
- 13 chartered vessels
- 900 trucks
- represented by 15 different suppliers
- 18 000 km
- 7 countries
- 10 trade lanes
- 9 different points of loading: Dubai – Shanghai – Kuantan – Jakarta – Baltimore – Italy – Netherlands – Turkey – France
- 1 main hub: Constanta (Romania)
- End destination: Transkama (river port) and 30 km onwards to Nizhnekamsk in Tatarstan, Russia
- 25 weeks door to door
- from mid-May to late November
Bring experience and flexibility to the table from the start
Ahlers personnel with local experience got involved at the very early stages of the project. This meant working with our client to minimise possible issues around delivery timings and Russian customs. In fact, we were in constant discussion for over two years before a contract was agreed, offering advice and assistance.
Heading up the team was Wijnand Herinckx, director at the Ahlers Moscow branch. He explained that our presence and experience in Russia was one of the key factors in acquiring the contract. “That has definitely made the balance swing in our favour,” Wijnand said, “but it was not our sole asset. Flexibility was also a critical aspect of our service."
Take teamwork to the next level
Nothing about the timescale, cargo, delivery routes or conditions was standard with this project.
Wijnand Herinckx: “One-size-fits-all approaches don’t work for projects like this. Teamwork made all the difference. No doubt one of the reasons behind concluding the project successfully and on time, was the shared feeling of trust in one another, the sense that team members could blindly rely on each other, knowing that because of their complementarity every problem or obstacle could swiftly be dealt with.”
“We also set up temporary offices on short notice to stay close to the customer and the end receiver. Staff relocated to Kuantan in Malaysia, Constanta in Romania and Nizhnekamsk in Russia. This on-site management allowed us to develop a feeling for how suppliers we co-operated with worked, enabling us to bridge any possible cultural gaps, and to adapt the workflow accordingly,” Wijnand explains. “By stepping into the shoes of our client, our suppliers and the end receiver, we could anticipate problems and difficult situations.”
Take responsibility to the next level
We also took the unusual step of acting as ‘importer of record’ in order to deliver already customs cleared parts to Russia.
Wijnand describes this process: “There is a certain amount of risk involved in doing this, as Ahlers in effect became the temporary proprietor of the imported goods. But as we had been living so close with all the parties involved, we knew the risk was practically non-existent, while on the other hand the benefits of relieving the bottle-neck all custom necessities always throw up were immense.”
Push transport planning to the limit
The cargo consisted mostly of oversized equipment ranging from 0.5 to 8 metres wide, with units of up to 50 metres long, and in all shapes and sizes. All sorts of transport options were needed to get these from 9 different loading points on 4 different continents to their final destination.
Wijnand: “There were some hiccups as cargo not being ready in time to be picked up, or badly marked units getting lost. We were even being handed wrong shipment dimensions, resulting in ill-fitting or even non-fitting cargo holds, leaving you with no option but to go back to the drawing board.”
“In addition, several roads and jetties in the ports we passed through didn’t meet the cargo requirements. A detailed transport plan was needed to get the loads from the red sands of Kuantan and cosmopolitan Shanghai to a small river jetty at Transkama, 30 km from the final destination Nizhnekamsk.”
It wasn’t just the man-made limitations, the weather also had a part to play. The last leg of the route involved using barges on the river Kama (a tributary to the Volga river) which freezes over at the start of the winter season. So the job that began in mid-May had to be done by late November. And indeed: just 6 days after the successful delivery of the very last item, the river began to freeze over.
Sometimes you have to wait, sometimes you step in
No matter how well-prepared a project team is, a goal this big is always going to have unexpected challenges.
Wijnand: “Two events stood out. One was a repeated demonstration of some sorts, blocking the cargo for a number of days. We had to sit that one out, biting our nails and biding our time. Another was when a ship carrying our cargo was suddenly confined to port in Colombo following a dispute between the ship owners and another party. When after a few days no solution seemed to be forthcoming, we flew over and stepped in to negotiate between the parties involved. It soon developed that the dispute was based on a misunderstanding and the ship was released.”
Moving this complete sulphur plant was a major project for both Ahlers and our client KNM. The successful delivery has helped both companies to grow and we see it as a testimonial to our dedication, flexibility and teamwork.
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