Safmarine, part of A.P. Moller - Maersk, has seen a 44% increase in the citrus cargo they have carried from South Africa this season. They had expected the increase of volumes, but their expectations have been exceeded, says Philip Elliott, reefer sales representative at Safmarine.
Being able to respond to the volume increase has required a tremendous amount of agility from the line this season, he says, operating under the unusual conditions and restrictions under which the 24/7 life of the fruit export industry has had to function.
They’ve had to make multiple contingencies to maintain schedule integrity. A few months in and there is more stability after initial deep unease about what the citrus season would look like under lockdown.
Feeder vessels carry empty reefers between South African ports this season (photos supplied by Maersk)
Introduction of feeder vessels as alternative to road transport
Two things really aided them, he says: the first was the change they had made, before the start of the season, to the main South African to Europe service (SAECS) which was split into two parts, a decision informed by both the anticipated higher citrus volumes as well as to avoid challenges faced the previous years at some ports in South Africa.
Being mindful of the dynamic situation within South Africa as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the service was proactively split into a Durban-Port Elizabeth-Europe service (omitting Cape Town) and then one dedicated to Cape Town (WAF1); the latter service with slightly smaller vessels with fewer plugs.
Additional feeder vessels were introduced to transport empty containers or cargo between the South African ports, as an alternative to trucking Western Cape cargo to Port Elizabeth, as this corridor does face pressure in terms of supply and demand.
Agility has been the name of the game, as the situation has changed week to week alternate options needed to be reviewed such as loading these feeder vessels at the privately-run FPT terminal in Cape Town’s Multipurpose Terminal.
A Safmarine reefer moored in Cape Town
Reefer containers are scarce in South Africa due to the imbalance in trade flows, however for this season it was heavily impacted by the lockdown in China in Q1. Safmarine brought in regular additional supply of empty reefer containers to various ports in South Africa to meet the expected stronger demand for South African fruit.
Weekly calls at Algeciras boost to excellent citrus season
Last year, for instance, delays along the South African coast led to missed berthing windows at the transhipment port of Algeciras much to the frustration of customers, he says.
This year, an additional vessel to the weekly SAECS service builds in seven days of buffer in case of delays along the coast (and delays there were), so that South African citrus exporters can again depend on the Mediterranean access brought by calling at Algeciras. It has also provided a transhipment point to Canada as well to cope with challenges to the North America service this season.
Lemons represent the highest increase among the citrus categories Safmarine has carried year to date, well in excess of 50% of their cargo, he says. “The amount of lemons we’ve moved this season is significantly higher than usual."
Europe has been a very strong market, the Middle East has also shown good growth, but the Far East has been a bit slower.
Containers in a depot prepared for collection by customers and hauliers
Digital info, transparent and available 24/7
The other advantage has been their focus on digital solutions. They’ve had positive feedback from clients, who are comfortable with digital systems and in actual fact prefer it. With many customers and staff having to work remotely due to Covid-19 restrictions, 24/7 booking access has contributed to the continued and seamless ease of doing business with Safmarine, he believes.
Their clients are keeping a close eye on arrivals, which is supported by the availability of digital information through their online cargo tracking platform and the Captain Peter temperature monitoring application.
“I’ve picked up that consignees and oversees customers are understanding of the challenges facing shippers and exporters in this unusual season, but in the end, they still need to deliver the products to their customers amidst the challenges being faced.”
Safmarine are able to offer multiple solutions to reefer customers in South Africa to assist with the logistics, especially during the pandemic, such as export documentation, cold storage and a comprehensive array of inland haulage solutions.
Due to the many challenges faced by stakeholders in South Africa over this period, regular and clear communication has assisted Safmarine to partner with South African shippers and exporters to provide viable solutions to keep their goods moving.