How to Move Freight in Volatile Locations

Tags: Risk Management

Despite geopolitical upheaval, natural disasters, labor strife, war, and countless other disturbances that threaten supply chain efficiency and economy, freight still needs to move. From delivering humanitarian aid in hurricane-ravaged locations to managing mission-critical parts replenishment in remote areas and delivering heavy equipment in support of government operations, shippers need to be flexible and responsive to demand to make sure product moves quickly and safely.

Successfully moving freight into challenging areas requires an abundance of preparation and due diligence, test runs, and contingency plans to make sure moves happen without a hitch. Working with transportation and logistics providers that have demonstrated success moving project cargo and mission-critical shipments—and who have operatives and affiliated agents on the ground in different parts of the world—is always a first step when entering the unknown.

More than anything else, communication and partnership are paramount as companies work with customers and service providers to strategize appropriate solutions, remedy costly exceptions, and execute successful moves.

Five Steps to Keep Cargo Moving

  1. Locate an airport with Customs facilities. If freight needs to move expeditiously in and out of an unsecure or unsettled location, it will likely be transported via air. While some transport managers assume all airports have Customs officials available to handle incoming freight, that isn't always the case. Consider all your options, as well as the possibility of mixing modes to deliver a product to a nearby airport that has a Customs presence, then trucking to the final destination. Take into account the total landed costs, especially in terms of how they relate to the expediency of a specific move if time is of the essence.
  2. Do your homework. When you are operating on the edge—in terms of civilization, war zone, disaster area, or price margin—any disruption or mishap can have cascading consequences. Weather is often the most compelling obstacle, and one that shippers have little control over, apart from proactively re-routing shipments or staging inventory in accessible areas.
    It's important to track potential weather scenarios around the world that might compromise the timeliness of a delivery, and how that might impact mode selection at pickup or destination. If airports close because of inclement conditions, trucks may still be able to operate. Keep in close contact with various airlines to see which ones are flying into trouble areas, and be flexible and creative in routing freight.
    Also bear in mind possible delays at the local level that can stop freight in its tracks. In the Middle East and Asia, for example, offices may close due to holidays or religious observances. Always have contingencies in place to circumvent possible work stoppages.
    Finally, as part of your total landed time and cost analysis and preparation, consider how and where you are moving freight across borders. Different continents and countries have cross-border variables that can impede even the best-laid plans. The fastest way from Point A to Point B is not always a straight line. Relationships between countries can cause complications. For example, to move a shipment from Kenya to the Congo, you must route it through Europe, because no carrier flies between those two countries. Similar circumstances exist in parts of South America, where it is easier to airfreight product from one country to the United States, then back to another country in lieu of trucking it across borders. Don't assume that just because borders touch, you can ship across them.
  3. Find a trusty local agent and spec out requirements up front. Having an operative on the ground who can act as a proxy to your best interests is important, especially when local regulations, customs, and language present possible obstacles. You have to rely on these agents to handle and transport your shipment and manage any exceptions, so make sure they are properly insured and recognized by the local government. Also, detail and discuss all requirements and agree to pricing up front. Legitimate agents will be open about costs, fees, and taxes, which can vary greatly between companies and countries, and therefore need to be spelled out without any uncertainty.
    Screening agents is another way you can ensure your freight remains secure when it's out of your custody. Limit yourself to using approved agents who have been vetted for stability and reliability. Get written confirmation that they will abide by Foreign Corrupt Practices Act standards, which are intended to prevent bribery and other forms of corruption. If you are working with a freight forwarder, make sure its agents comply with these requirements as well.
  4. Maintain constant and redundant means of communication. Communicating frequently with trading partners is always important. But when freight moves across oceans, through several countries, and via multiple transport modes, there is more room for error, and a long period between freight acceptance and delivery. Make sure to keep all involved parties updated on any issues or problems that arise.
    Also, while person-to-person contact via telephone is preferred, it is not always an option for a number of different reasons. Email communication is therefore equally important, because it provides redundancy and a paper trail if issues arise. If there is a language barrier, email lends itself to easier translation than a phone call.
  5. Charter if necessary. Sometimes you need to sacrifice economy for need. Commercial flights aren't always an option when shipping certain project cargo or into sensitive areas. For example, most freight moving to Iraq and Afghanistan is flown commercially to the United Arab Emirates, then moved via charter operators that fly to the necessary airports.