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Specialised freight solutions

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How do you transport the 85-year-old relics of a Catholic saint? Move live fireworks for an Olympic ceremony? Deliver pole vaults for an Olympic athlete? Specialist freight services all over the world move weird and wonderful goods. Every day millions of containers are trucked, shipped and flown across the world. Sometimes their contents are a little out of the ordinary. Since their first large-scale sporting event appointment for the Sydney Olympic Games in 1999, global freight conglomerate DB Schenker has become a world leader in specialist operations, looking after major sporting tournaments, international exhibitions, artworks, museum pieces and events including the Catholic World Youth Day in 2008. Sabine Schlosser manages specialist logistics in Australia and New Zealand for the company. Her advice for exporters moving an unusual cargo is to consult the experts. Freight involves a web of international regulations, protocols, documentation, permit applications and cargo agreements, and it can be hard for a novice to negotiate. "If it’s anything that is not just a normal pallet which you can send with normal cargo in the normal freight section, just give specialists a call," Schlosser advises. "The advice costs you nothing." Basically, special operations logistics is "nothing fancy", Schlosser says. "The principle of sending freight (by sea, air or road) and looking after pick and pack is fairly straightforward." What sets special logistics apart is the planning and negotiation that goes on before and afterwards, making sure everything runs smoothly in a complex operation. Planning routes and handling protocols, negotiating legalities, ensuring documentation and paperwork is correct, making deadlines and ensuring safe and timely transit are the hard parts. That’s where specialists like DB Schenker can help.

A holy commission

Things get more complicated when the client is the global Catholic Church. This took the special logistics department of DB Schenker into uncharted territory. While familiar with the transport of human remains, in the lead-up to World Youth Day 2008, Schlosser’s department was confronted with a new logistical challenge. How do you move the relics of a saint, dead for more than 85 years? Pier Giorgio Frassati was never embalmed but his remains lie uncorrupted in a tomb in Turin. DB Schenker was asked to freight the relics to Sydney for the pilgrimage. "I believe in miracles," Schlosser says, but she was determined to have a chemist involved in the process of freight. "There’s a reason why that body is not decaying." A chemist assisted DB Schenker to recreate the conditions in Frassati’s tomb for a special crate, and DB Schenker freighted Frassati to and from Sydney with no incident. "We’ve never moved a saint. And a saint doesn’t have a passport to start off with. The whole paperwork side of it was quite interesting."

In such an unusual operation, innovation and problem solving are the keys to special logistics. DB Schenker dedicated a new warehouse to the pick and pack for 275,000 colourful backpacks for Catholic pilgrims. They also organised the transport of the iconic Popemobile, a bulletproof vehicle weighing more than 4 tonnes. It was too tall to travel on an ordinary cargo aircraft. Two years before the Pope arrived in Sydney, DB Schenker began the logistical effort behind the journey of the cross and icon, which toured the Pacific before coming to Sydney. Four metres long and weighing 80 kilos, the cross had to be transported whole. "We had to take seats out of planes, we had to use all of our imagination," Sclosser says. "What an experience! Not only from a freight perspective but from an emotional perspective as well," she reflects.

An Olympic effort

The Olympic Games in Sydney 2000 were DB Schenker’s first large-scale international sporting event. "It’s not just like one event, it’s like many little events-lots of little projects." Timing equipment, tents and seating structures come in early, and sporting equipment must be in place before test events. "Then you’ve got your real stuff arriving, which is the athletes with their uniforms, sporting and competition gear. You have ceremony gear and the biggest part of all of this is the broadcast and press equipment, and there are full-on deadlines behind that." In fact, the reason Australians were aware the Commonwealth Games in Delhi were running so far behind schedule was that DB Schenker had delivered press and broadcast equipment on time. "You always have to have a Plan B and a Plan C. It’s literally performing miracles," Schlosser says. Plan in advance the ways you will deal with customs, the organising committee and identify all the relevant stakeholders. When gold medals are riding on your ability to get a container to a dock on time, you can’t afford to wait, Schlosser says. (She made some timely phone calls to extract Steve Hooker’s pole vaults from a ship in time for the Commonwealth Pole vaulting event.) "With something like the Games, you can never drop the ball." Saints or sporting equipment, the end goal of a specialist logistics operation is the same, Schlosser says. "The main thing is for us always that the client gets whatever they require, in whichever way that needs to be done. And quite often you have to be innovative so things will get done."

Case Study: Moving dangerous goods

"We understand that what we’re dealing with is not soft toys," says Andrew Howard, director of displays at Howard & Sons Pyrotechnics. "It should be difficult to move fireworks around and a duty of care is required every step of the way for the freight logistics of what we do." Howard & Sons is one of Australia’s premier pyrotechnics companies. Recently, Howard & Sons lit up the stands at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Given only a few months to prepare for the late-running Games was a logistical nightmare, says Howard. "Fireworks are illegal to import into Delhi so no shipping line would take dangerous goods there. We had to change the laws in India to allow the importation of pyrotechnics for this one-off event." Moving pyrotechnics is a constant struggle, Howard says. "It doesn’t matter where we do work: in the Middle East or in Asia, in North America or in Europe. There’s always a huge premium on shipping dangerous goods, and a logistical minefield to work through." Howard & Sons engaged DGM Australia, a hazardous cargo specialist, to negotiate with shipping agents. "It’s a long and tedious process to massage the freight logistics for a project, you really need someone dealing with it every day." Fireworks have to be packed carefully in UN approved packaging. Only certain classes of explosives can travel by air. However, fireworks are only a quarter of a load when moving pyrotechnics for a show. "For the fireworks to be safely used and shot as per the design of the show, it needs a lot of associated equipment to be sent with it." On the road in Australia, Howard & Sons travel in a road train of licensed prime movers. Howard’s grandfather and great-grandfather forfeited a hand apiece to their passion for firepower but Howard hasn’t lost the family spark. "The person that hires us based on our reputation is asking us to exceed it the next time they book us. We’ve always got to be better. Our passion for our artwork and constantly trying to outdo ourselves, that’s what drives our reputation." Dangerous goods can range from formal explosives (weapons and pyrotechnics) to hairspray. There are nine different UN classes to help determine which explosives can travel by air (on a passenger or cargo plane) and which have to travel by sea.

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