Move Planning Puzzle

Staying One Step Ahead of the Pandemic

By Malcolm Ramsay
As one of the regions worst hit by Covid-19, northern Italy has faced massive disruptions to its transport infrastructure since the pandemic took hold at the start of the year.

Despite these disruptions, however, breakbulk has had to keep moving and heavy-lift operators in the region have responded to the challenge with ingenuity and resolve.

More than ever, the need for clear communication and collaboration between team members has been of prime importance for breakbulk transport as a recent project for logistics provider Abnormal Load Services, or ALS, exemplified.

The firm was tasked with collecting and transporting a 70-ton industrial press from near Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, in northern Italy, and delivering it to a factory in the Netherlands. With a total cargo value of about €1 million the project was of high priority for ALS and it was imperative that border disruptions did not hold up transportation or impact the delivery schedule.

The client, a fuel tank specialist, requested delivery of the giant press to its facility in the Netherlands long before the emergence of Covid-19. But as the virus took hold and swept through Italy, ALS found itself under increased pressure to meet deadlines.

“Transport date (after getting permits) would be approximately early March, so as time progressed and the Covid-19 virus expanded heavily in Italy at the time, we had to stay on top of the situation in order to be able to act accordingly,” said Toon Fokkema, operations manager at ALS Moerdijk.

Mounting Disruption

Initially viewed as no more than a minor health scare, the virus took hold in Italy on Jan. 31 with the arrival of two Chinese tourists to Rome who tested positive for Covid-19. Following the first handful of cases, the virus spread at a rapid rate throughout the course of February, quickly becoming a national crisis as the death toll mounted.

In early March, Italian authorities announced that the epicenter of the pandemic, the Lombardy region, was to enter total lockdown as well as 14 provinces across four other regions. Having grown from a few cases a day in early February, Lombardy fast emerged as one of the worst affected regions in the country, with hundreds of new cases being reported every day and chaos ensuing in many areas as uncertainty about the transmission of the virus grew.

Lying directly to the north of the Emilia-Romagna region, delivery via Lombardy was a natural choice for the transport of the press. In the end, and despite the impending threat of road closures, a route was secured that avoided delays or impediments.

“The route was selected by the transporter – they have access to all the heavy load routes and can check for the best routes,” Fokkema explained. “There was a small challenge with a part of the route on which there were road works, but it proved to be no problem to pass, so we did not encounter any problems.”

Fuel Tank Fabrication

Measuring 6.9 meters long, 3.9 meters wide and 3.1 meters high, the industrial press was a key component for a manufacturing facility, set up to fabricate fuel tanks for heavy-duty trucks. Due to its dimensions the cargo required heavy-lift cranes to load out upon collection at the manufacturer’s site in the Bologna region.

Alongside the main breakbulk item, ALS was also tasked with collecting and transporting an array of spare parts from multiple origins in Italy to the client’s factory in the Netherlands. Given the uncertainty that surrounded the development of the pandemic in Italy at the time, the need to maintain close control over project schedule was paramount, as ALS not only had to ensure that the cargo arrived in the Netherlands on time, but was also required to complete installation at the site upon arrival, in preparation for factory start-up.

Headquartered in Hull in the north of England, ALS operates across Europe. Its Moerdijk office in the south of the Netherlands acts as a center for operations in the region. A subsidiary of Norwegian shipping line Wallenius Wilhelmsen, ALS provides specialist logistics with a focus on oversized, abnormal, exceptional and heavy-lift projects in the rail, construction, mining, tunneling, oil and gas, offshore, and renewable energy sectors.

“We contracted ALS Moerdijk [as] they have offices throughout Europe and with their offices in both Italy and Holland combined they were the perfect partner,” the client said.

Close Communication

Based in Moerdijk, Fokkema was responsible for ensuring the safe and timely delivery of the package. To achieve this, and because many road and rail routes were closing or under threat of closure, Fokkema coordinated closely with his colleagues at ALS, liaising directly with his counterpart at ALS Italia throughout.
“[We] kept a continuous communications line with regards to any known limitations and threats, in order to get the transport done safely under the given circumstance,” Fokkema explained.

After detailed planning the team managed to arrange a route by road for the cargo, transferring the industrial press to a self-propelled modular trailer at the load-out site.

“Cargo was loaded at the production facility, and the best route was chosen based on the available routes for heavy cargoes,” Fokkema said.

With the cargo underway, ALS maintained a close watch on transport broadcasts to ensure the chosen route remained open and stood ready to redirect the cargo should any disruptions present themselves.

“As the preparations for the transport and installation progressed, so did the Covid-19 virus in Italy. The handover of the press and the subsequent transport were under stress due to the virus’ behavior and its effects on society,” the client explained.

But due to the team’s vigilance the press arrived at the client’s site in Holland on time in late March, undamaged and ready for installation. Given the size and weight of the press, ALS’s client required specialized lifting equipment to position and install the unit, and opted to utilize a tower lift and set system from heavy-lift Dutch manufacturer Hydrospex. Fokkema stated that the equipment was “the most suitable system” for the installation.
“ALS Moerdijk and ALS Italy were very helpful in guiding the whole transport, to ensure there would not be any logistical hiccups that would prevent a successful installation. Happy to say that working together on this job, we got everything done timely and to great satisfaction,” the client said.

Despite the tight deadline, the project was completed on time and the equipment was installed successfully within the fuel tank facility, just ahead of lockdown measures being introduced across the Netherlands.  

Based in the UK, Malcolm Ramsay has a background in business analysis and technology writing, with an emphasis on transportation and ports.

Image credit: ALS.