At the beginning of May, a special team in the Parisian suburbs worked around the clock to prepare ballots, posters and other materials for the final round of the French presidential elections. The packages were then sent by diplomatic pouch to French embassies and consulates worldwide to allow the 1.2 million French nationals overseas to cast their votes.
“There was no room for error,” says Dominique De Amorin, head of the SDV team in charge of preparing the 400 bags of voting materials for France’s 240 embassies and consulates. “We couldn’t resend the packages if there was a mistake.”
The French Foreign Ministry demands a rapid and efficient logistics network to maintain ties with its overseas embassies and missions. It sends goods including documents, works of art, furniture, crockery, computers, disaster relief and security equipment from Paris to destinations including Baku in Azerbaijan, Bucharest in Romania and Islamabad in Pakistan, De Amorin adds.
Disaster relief could involve vehicles or temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals and vaccines. In 2011, for example, SDV prepared 8,000 blankets to send to Japan as part of France’s aid following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident in Japan. De Amorin’s team also prepared a further 40 cubic meters of materials to help manage the emergency including masks and equipment for measuring radiation.
Twenty SDV employees work in the group’s 6,000 square-meter warehouse in Ris Orangis, south of Paris. They organize the warehousing and transport of various goods for the French Foreign Ministry.
Some shipments travel by conventional freight. Last spring, for example, SDV prepared 600 cubic meters of security materials to be sent to different embassies by plane.
But many of the French Foreign Ministry orders are shipped in diplomatic bags, packages with diplomatic immunity under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. These bags cannot be searched or seized and can only be used for official communications.
The diplomatic bags are organized by another group of 20 SDV employees working in the French Foreign Ministry’s own offices outside Paris. They operate like a “mini post office,” sorting all the mail and goods to be sent in diplomatic bags overseas, De Amorin says.
Mistakes can be costly with high penalties for bags sent to the wrong destination, for example.
The SDV employees work in secure areas and must have security clearance from the French Foreign Ministry. They carry out x-ray scans of the goods, put them in the diplomatic bags and close them with a diplomatic seal. This secure freight is then transported to the airport.
SDV prepares bags for between 30 and 40 destinations daily, says De Amorin. In total, she estimates that SDV handles diplomatic bags weighing 500 tonnes every year. “We must be disciplined and accurate with a high level of reactivity,” she says. “There are always international events and emergencies overseas that require us to respond.”