Best Practice: Experienced logisticians are needed to ensure that flour does not run out on the Caribbean cruise. Then it all depends on speed - and on teamwork

A cruise ship is on its way to the Caribbean. That's not unusual. On board are 5,000 guests, mostly from Germany. They all look forward to an unforgettable sea voyage full of entertainment, fun and culinary highlights. That, too, happens fairly often. But then the requested delivery of flour doesn’t arrive. The reason: The shipment is stuck in customs.

Now effective express logistics are required to enable the cruise liner to continue its journey without a challenging change of the catering plan. And the teams of Röhlig Germany and Röhlig USA have worked hard to make sure everything works fast. Marc Engeland (Station Manager Hamburg) and his team have organized the transport.


Flour by air freight? This is not common, but sometimes necessary!

If a transport is easy to plan and the order is placed with sufficient lead time, cargo is usually shipped with cost efficient sea freight. However, air transport may be necessary. For example when transporting goods to hard-to-reach places or when something in the supply chain does not run as planned and the desired product is not locally available.

For the logistics company, such a situation means freeing up capacities at short notice and organizing fast transport.

Express logistics ensure that the scent of freshly baked bread makes guests on board the cruise ship happy

Travellers take a seat in the deckchairs as the cruise liner leaves the US port and heads for the Caribbean. Even below deck, where only a little while ago hectic reigned, everything is quiet again. The crew had never seen the chef so outraged: there was a lack of flour for the bread, which comes fresh from the bakery several times a day. Not everything had gone smoothly at the loading in the last port. 

Good hosts offer guests every comfort in distant countries

Guests expect all the amenities and much of what they are used to at home on a cruise - including meals and, in this case, fresh bread. In the course of their voyage, cruise ships therefore repeatedly pick up cargo in the ports they are calling.

Express logistics shows how good the logistical processes of a company are.

Just-in-Time and Just-in-Sequence: this is essential for supplying cruise ships

The challenge in supplying a cruise ship is to coordinate the ship's schedule, the exact and short lay days in the ports, as well as the transport and delivery of goods to the quayside. Just-in-time delivery is required - to reach the ship reliably in the harbor and to comply with the assigned slot. In addition, a just-in-sequence delivery is needed because the limited on-board space capacity requires a coordinated delivery and distribution of goods.

In this case, the Röhlig team around Marc Engeland accepted this challenge.

The flour supply for the cruise to the Caribbean arrives by express

I remember this particular case very clearly. The unusual part was not that it had to go fast. That's normal for deliveries by air freight. What was unusual was the product: an important additional flour-delivery for a cruise ship. It was late one evening and I was on my way home when I heard what was going on. Flour, baking powder and other ingredients for the bakery were not delivered in time and not available locally, because the kitchen needed special, typically German products. The flour was therefore shopped in Germany and we calculated, if the time frame would work for a delivery to New York. We divided the total of almost 12 tons into several partial shipments. Via our airfreight manager in Germany and our contacts at the airline in Frankfurt on the Main we set everything in motion to go on a direct flight from Frankfurt to New York on Saturday evening.

The shipment had to arrive at the wharf on Monday, because the ship would leave again from New York to the Caribbean on Monday night.

Marc Engeland, Station Manager Hamburg, Röhlig Germany

Capacities on freighters are sold out quickly. Then the pulse rises.

A short-term order implies fast action

The entire job came at very short notice. We first had to submit a quotation, as competitors also had. When we got the contract on Wednesday we only had a few days left. We started immediately because we wanted to fly on Friday.

In such cases, we receive the schedule of the ship and then have the task of delivering the goods just-in-sequence and just-in-time directly to the quayside. The slot had to fit in this case, of course, exactly to the time frame. This assumes that truck drivers have a gate pass. They need it when they deliver the goods.

We flew with Lufthansa, who also fly cargo planes to New York. We could not use the passenger aircraft in this case, because the dimensions of the shipment were too big. Oversized airfreight, such as long parcels or high pallets that no longer fit in passenger aircraft, has to be transported by special cargo aircrafts.

The worst scenario would have been to arrive at the pier after 5 pm, when the ship had already left. In that case we could not have been able to ensure that bread was still available. They literally could not bake any more as there was just no flour left. Therefore the delivery was super urgent.

Customs formalities must be taken into consideration

In case of delay we would have had to check, which port would be called next in order to deliver the flour there. However, that would not have been so easy, because apart from the fact that the flour would have to be transported further, customs formalities need to be handled. In our case, the goods would not remain in the US but would go on board to be consumed there, so it was not an import customs clearance but a customs clearance for goods in transit. For transit shipments duties or taxes do not incur.

Customs formalities differ from country to country, sometimes even from port to port. They can be very complex - which is why our experts deal with them in advance. In certain ports, the goods could not have been declared as transit goods, for example, which needs to be taken into consideration when planning. The customs clearance can also be time-consuming. It can take between 2-7 days, which must be scheduled in advance, especially with time sensitive goods.

When the shipment arrived on Sunday, we were on-site with colleagues. We had already contacted the local Lufthansa colleagues to make sure they would provide the goods as fast as possible. They were already loaded onto the truck on Sunday evening and delivered safely to the vessel on Monday morning. What a relieve!

It all worked out in the end. The flour was on board and for us it was just a really good feeling, so that the any stressful situation was quickly forgotten.

To us, logistics means being available to our customers 24/7 and finding individual solutions when needed.

A proven network makes the difference in logistics

How good the logistic partners and processes are usually becomes apparent during crises. A trusting cooperation is the best basis for smooth processes. At Röhlig Logistics, many business relationships have existed for many years or even decades. Over more than 160 years of corporate history, many trusting relationships have been established worldwide.

Characteristics in last-minute express logistics:

  • narrow time frame
  • sudden capacity bottlenecks for air freight
  • correct and appropriate routing
  • urgent need for quotation and proposals, also on weekends
  • Coordination and close cooperation on a global level (and the involved time zones)

Our logistics processes are very well-attuned. This benefits our customers every day, even in unusual scenarios. Because we have a lot of process experience - and can act very efficiently within a very short time.

Dirk Schneider, Global Airfreight Director at Röhlig Logistics

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