Posted by: Craig | April 26, 2008

Volvo after BMW: Who’s best at loading?

Tracking of cargoes that are transhipped form one vessel to anotherI walked around the decks with Johan Hartler as he oversaw his stevedores loading the Volvos. Saabs and strange looking boxes onboard the Fidelio.

As head of operations in Sweden he has the task of making sure that the right freight goes on board, and that as much as possible can go on when it does.

“The challenge really is to get the right mix of the large, high and heavy cargo with the cars,” he told me as we wander amongst the oversize and frankly bizarre machinery used in the mining industry. We keep one eye in the back of our heads for the cars as they are loaded as they can appear out of nowhere.

 Some of the Fidelio’s decks are adjustable and in places these have three settings, so at certain heights only certain cargo will fit. If the deck is at its lowest, i.e. lying on the deck below it, then Johan tells me he has more height at his disposal, where as in the middle it is about 2 meters high and only cars will fit, with a slightly higher level above.

“The interesting thing is that I might have an order for a Caterpillar, which will fit on one deck height setting, but a John Deere will not, simply because it is only two centimetres higher.”

Johan sailed with Wallenius Marine before he came ashore to work for the companies joint logistics company, WWL. “I can understand what the chief mate means when he tells me that something is not working, or if my stevedores are getting in the way with the ship’s operation,” he explained.

He can also understand the necessity to plan the cargo carefully, with the ships stability in mind. “We don’t have to worry about that too much however as this ship is new and has good ballast systems to help heel and balance things out,” he said.

“If I get a shipment of dumper trucks, then I make sure they are evenly spread, port and starboard, and anything heavy like this, we put in the centreline” he pointed at a huge tarpaulin covered structure laying on a flatbed in the middle of the loading cargo deck.

As we are talking cars are whizzing up the ramps and round the pillars, tyres squealing on the non-slip deck paint.

“I can see a difference between loading in Sweden and Germany,” he said. When the Mercedes and BMW’s come onboard, the shore crews will line them up precisely. First one type and then another. They will be lined up to within a millimetre.”

However as I stand there I watch first a Volvo, then a Saab and then a multi terrain Volvo go up the ramp.

“In Bremerhaven we have the terminal space to lay things out properly, but here we compete for space with the container terminal, so we are more cramped,” he said. The port gets more money from container operations, so beside the Fidelio, one can see containers stacked and waiting, hedging in the cars and heavy diggers.

What I was surprise to see with the loading crews was firstly the mix. I had never really thought about it before, but the crews ranged form middle aged men to young women, all totally at ease squeezing a car as close as it can go next to its neighbour onboard.

“We try and get a fist distance between the bumpers and about twenty centimetres between the cars,” said Johan.

When the ship takes onboard cars destined for Britain, Australia or any where else with right hand drive Johan tells me they simply load in the other direction. “The interesting thing is when we have, as we often do, split cargoes with left and right hand drive”.

The loading is made more interesting with the additional complication that Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics has an agreement with the car makers that they can adjust the final loading figures up to six hours after loading has started. This can make a difference of up to ten percent, which with the experience that Johan has, that’s no problem. “We always leave some leeway for that change, you learn by experience, but the bigger cargoes are the easiest.” And in terms of effort, time and space onboard, very profitabable. The strangest thing the company has carried on one of its ships, is a life size bronze elephant for a golf course. Although Johan claims his most peculiar was a whole fairground.

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