Organizing logistics for relief efforts demands speed and innovation.
Early this summer, French oyster farmers mobilized to help their counterparts in Japan following the devastating tsunami of March 11.
The aid effort included shipping some 15 tonnes of oyster-farm equipment such as buoys and ropes from western France to the Sanriku region on the northeastern coast of Japan.
The Japanese farmers urgently needed these supplies. They had to reconstruct their system of ropes and shells to attract new oyster larvae before the breeding season ended around 31 July.
“It was a race against time,” says Arnaud Rastoul, SDV’s head of Japan who directed the transport of the material. “The Japanese farmers risked losing one year of production which would threaten their main markets.”
The operation, coordinated by Paris-based microfinance group PlaNet Finance, aimed to help around 3,000 oyster farms in Japan.
The project proved logistically challenging. SAS Mulot, the French manufacturer of the buoys, had no experience of the materials and processes needed to export these products, Rastoul adds.
“We had just one week to repack the buoys for international shipment, clear customs and deliver the equipment to Japan,” says Rastoul, noting that time-critical operations often require innovative solutions. SDV in France, for example, had to quickly assemble tailor-made crates to transport the buoys by air.
Once the supplies reached Japan, SDV chartered trucks with special suspension systems to transport the buoys and ropes some 400 kilometers from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport to the Sanriku region. “The road system was in bad shape after the tsunami,” says Rastoul.
SDV, that also shipped power packs from several countries to Japan as part of the reconstruction effort, advises clients to plan ahead as much as possible for aid and relief operations. Rastoul highlights the complexity of the logistics and the typically large number of players involved. He recommends selecting providers well in advance as part of the planning process.
“Time is precious and documentation and compliance take time,” he says. This is especially true when sending relief to disaster zones where materials may need special clearance. “It is very important to give precise information to shippers,” he says.
“Contact with customs authorities is a priority,” Rastoul adds. “There is always the risk that poor documentation will cause delays.”
In emergency situations, clients need to track the transport of the material easily and have access to dedicated teams handling the logistics, notes Rastoul. They require round-the-clock support from specialists to manage any problems such as damaged infrastructure or issues with taxes and duties.
Finally, while aid operations mostly use costly air freight because of the time pressure, there are ways to bring costs down. “We can negotiate with the airlines to get the best deal,” says Rastoul.