It wasn’t so long ago that the first brown marmorated stink bug was discovered by a mechanic in New Zealand in a new US-built vehicle. That particular stink bug was dead but it wasn’t long before live ones were found in another batch of cargo bound for Oceania from the US.
Within weeks, the Australian and New Zealand authorities – terrified that the agricultural pest, which hibernates during winter in equipment and vehicles, would invade and devastate their agricultural industry – implemented strict regulations on all imported vehicles, machinery and parts used in a wide range of industries, from agriculture to food processing.
As customers scrambled to conform to these strict new regulations, cargo piled up in ports in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
“All hell broke loose,” says Phil Hansen, General Manager of Cargo Quality, Atlantic West at WWL. “Vessel sailings were sometimes delayed by two days as cargo sat in the US port waiting to be treated within the 96-hour timeframe for Australia and 72-hour timeframe for New Zealand. On the other side of the world, in Oceania, ships had to wait in port longer than usual as they could not discharge their cargo. All the cargo had to be inspected by the Department of Agriculture, treated by the fumigation company and released by the customs.”
Baltimore, a logical choice
WWL was quick to respond to the crisis, helping its customers to comply with the regulations and keeping them updated with a regular flow of information. As customers leaned on WWL to treat the cargo on their behalf – and realising that the stink bug problem was going to be around for a while – the company decided to open its own fumigation facility in the Port of Baltimore.
Baltimore was a logical choice for WWL’s first fumigation facility as the majority of cargo traveling from the US to Australia and New Zealand is exported out of this port.
“The fumigation takes place in Baltimore to protect all cargo on our vessels from being cross-contaminated,” says Michael Rye, Head of North Atlantic Port Operations, including Baltimore. “By fumigating in Baltimore, we eliminate the risk and give our customers peace of mind when shipping with WWL to Oceania.
“We fumigate for all the major auto and equipment producers including John Deere, CNH, CAT, JLG and Ford. So far this year, we have fumigated approximately 150,000 cubic metres of cargo. It’s hard to tell how much we will fumigate next year because it is all reliant on the Australia and New Zealand regulation and exemption list.”
A 24-hour fume service
Once the cargo arrives in Baltimore by truck or rail, it’s prepared for services such as DAFF wash, tyre mount or transit coating, if necessary. The cargo is then sorted according to the Australia or New Zealand fumigation requirements and placed inside the fumigation center in accordance with the vessel loading date. The fumigation facility is sealed and loaded with the required concentration of sulphuryl fluoride.
“The cargo remains under fume for up to 24 hours,” says Rye. “Once the ventilation is complete, the cargo is loaded directly onto the vessel from the fumigation facility. This takes a lot of co-ordination between the Vessel Operations team, Trade mangment, Customer Care and the Terminal.”
Rye says the greatest challenge in building the fumigation facility was the timeline. “We only had a few months to put together a project plan, get the right bids and permits and construct a large structure with a state-of-the-art ventilation system and a 40-foot stack,” he says. “It was also critical to ensure we met all of the Maryland Department of Environment requirements for permitting and operating. It was a true team effort to accomplish this.”
Time is also the main hurdle in treating the cargo to make sure it is ready in time for its sailing date. “The 96-hour window creates a unique challenge to have all the cargo fumed,” says Rye. “There will be times where we need to do two fume cycles in that 96 hour window. We have processes in place to ensure there are no service failures.”
The chemicals used to fumigate the cargo are strong and designed to completely eradicate the stink bugs. “The fumigant is not harmful to the cargo and does not leave a residue or odour,” Hansen says. “The same fumigant is also used to treat perishables such as cocoa beans.
“Almost all our customers prefer to let us take care of the fumigation so they don’t need to worry about the timeframe for treating the cargo. Another big benefit is economies of scale; with our specialised facility we can make the process more cost-efficient for them. It’s our way of giving our customers a value-added service.”
WWL’s fumigation services in the US
WWL will open its first specialised fumigation facility in its Mid-Atlantic Terminal in Baltimore on 2 October. The 2,276-square-metre state-of-the-art building with its two massive bay doors is large enough to fit the largest high and heavy (H&H) equipment as well as all the odd-shaped cargo that WWL transports on behalf of its customers. Inside, the building is completely insulated – to ensure none of the sulfphuryl fluoride used during the fumigation process escapes – and temperature controlled. The actual fumigation is conducted by a company which specializes in industrial fumigation. Fumigation services are also offered by WWL in conjunction with the port authority in Savannah, Georgia, and in Galveston, Texas. WWL is also assisting customers with setting up fumigation services on the West Coast of the US.
About the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
The bug is an agricultural pest found in Asia, notably China, Japan and Korea and migrated to the US. The stink bug feeds on fruit and field crops and trees, seriously disfiguring fruit and making it inedible. The stink bug is approximately 1.7 centimetres long with a brown ‘shield’ shape. Its eggs are laid on the underside of leaves in clusters of twenty to thirty. During the winter, the stink bug hibernates in buildings, agricultural machinery and containers and may end up ‘hitchhiking’ via cargo to other countries.