A cargo of this size and weight should not be too difficult for an experienced operator like WWL with their RoRo system but the planning is the most important part. You have to have very good planning and professional support to succeed.

Construction has begun on a massive engineering project to build the first subway line in Panama. The high profile project has already been visited by German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle.

Two massive tunnel boring machines, working from either end of the line, are slowly grinding their way through the ground under Panama City as the route takes shape.

The machines, each with a diameter of 9.73 metres, were shipped to Panama by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL) under instruction from freight forwarder, Geodis Wilson. WWL teams in Europe and Panama worked closely with Geodis in a carefully planned operation to ensure rapid transit time and safe handling of this high value product.

WWL responsibility for the shipment included loading of the dismantled bore units from barges in Antwerp, ocean transport to Panama and management of the subsequent discharge onto trucks for inland distribution to the construction site.

Each stage of the project required innovative thinking, flexibility and, of course, skilled and experienced staff to handle the cargo.

“An important factor for us was the ability to load the ship at Antwerp, rather than Zeebrugge, because it saved on barge costs and reduced transit times,” said Stefan Waszak, Industrial Projects Manager for Geodis Wilson. “WWL offer regular, scheduled sailings on the Panama route and were flexible enough to arrange for the ship to make an extra call in Antwerp. “They also were able to offer port co-ordination in Panama where discharge was a really big challenge. It was very good to have local people who had worked together previously but also understood the issues of handling a shipment like this.

“A cargo of this size and weight should not be too difficult for an experienced operator like WWL with their RoRo system but the planning is the most important part. You have to have very good planning and professional support to succeed.”

Even broken down the tunnel boring machines, designed and built by Herrenknecht in Germany, make a substantial cargo: the heaviest piece is the main drive at 130 tonnes while the cutter head centre weighs 71.5 tonnes and is more than seven metres across. Each shipment was 42 pieces with a total weight of 1,368 tonnes – requiring 35 roll trailers for transport on the ship’s main deck.

Abu Nasser, Breakbulk General Manager, Germany, says experience is essential, particularly for lifting and securing the cargo.

“You cannot just lift items of this size and weight. You need to have the right crane and also know the exact centre of gravity and lifting points, otherwise it’s unstable. This applies both for loading and discharge, so the co-ordination between port teams in Europe and Panama - where they hadn’t handled a cargo like this before - was critical.

“Also, the planning has to work, not just on paper, but in real life. For instance, the roll trailers have to be in exactly the right order on the dockside for loading from the barges in order to reduce transit times and keep things safe.

“You need to get the right piece of cargo onto the right type of trailer. These things sound simple but there has to be a lot of information and hard work between the terminal teams, the stevedores and the management team to make it happen.”

WWL has worked previously with Geodis Wilson on similar projects to both North America and Oceania, and the two companies continue to work closely together on new tenders.


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