Heavy Lifting

June 11th, 2013 - Transporting massive objects requires special skills

Last year, a European industrial group needed to transport gas engines weighing up to 300 metric tonnes to an electrical power plant in Bamako, the capital of Mali in Africa. The feasibility study alone took three days.

Experts took photographs and measured the length and height of bridges. They plotted a new route through the port of Dakar in Senegal after the nearest port of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast was blocked following political unrest.

“We have to find solutions to problems,” says Pierre Levesque, head of the industrial projects division at SDV in France that managed the transportation of the engines.

Industrial projects ranging from the construction of power plants, oil refineries and infrastructure increasingly require delivery of complex and massive components to sites in Europe, Africa and the fast-developing nations of China, India or Brazil.

But transporting exceptional loads is a complex logistical challenge spanning feasibility studies, the creation of infrastructure such as landing sites, bridges and roads and the provision of customs clearance services and permits.

Providers will also charter special heavy-lifting planes, ships and barges and advise on the best time of the year to transport the cargo according to the season and tides.

Security, meanwhile, must also be assured. “Military ships often escort vessels through the Gulf of Aden,” says Levesque. In Nigeria, private security companies guard these outsize loads.

Some zones must be avoided for security reasons heightening the logistical challenges. Industrial cargo previously destined for Libya, for example, is currently being diverted to countries in Europe such as Italy and France until the political situation in Libya has stabilized, Levesque adds.

The breadth of industrial projects is often impressive. In one recent commission, SDV was charged with coordinating the transport and logistics for the construction of an oil refinery in Vietnam, a liquified natural gas plant in South Africa and a power plant in Algeria.

In many cases, installation is also included. During construction of a liquified natural gas plant in Nigeria, for example, SDV transported seven modules weighing up to 700 tonnes by sea barge from Abu Dhabi to Port Harcourt and then installed them on piles in the sea floor.

Crucially, the logistics costs of these large-scale endeavors must make sense. One project to build an uranium mine in Niger, a landlocked country in the Sahelian region of A?r, was challenged by the location of the site at a distance of around two thousand kilometers from the nearest port, notes Levesque. “The transport costs of certain chemicals, such as sulphur, were around four times the price of the product itself,” he says. “That can only be possible if the project is sufficiently priced to absorb the costs.”

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