Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common. But with a combination of planning and technology, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics can ensure that disruption to its customers’ supply chains is kept to a minimum.

Captain Stein Erik Flø has encountered dozens of hurricanes during his 37-year career at sea. But despite his long experience, and the fact that he was at the helm of WWL’s largest RoRo vessel, MV Tønsberg, when Hurricane Irene threatened to cross his path in August, he was still keen to stay out of the storm’s way.

“Even in such a large vessel it’s not much fun in a hurricane,” says Captain Flø. So using weather information from Swedish Metrological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) and other onboard systems, he changed his route to avoid the worst of the storm, dropping anchor in the Caribbean for 28 hours until the threat receded.

Weather routing systems, in combination with detailed planning at cargo terminals, help WWL ensure that its customers’ supply chains remain intact, despite the increasing incidence of extreme weather. “The aim of the game is to arrive with damage-free cargo, within the shortest transit time and consuming as little fuel as possible,” says Jørgen Føyen, WWL’s Manager Fleet Performance.

Føyen points out that between 1850 and 1990, there were on average ten tropical storms, including five hurricanes, every year. Between 1998 and 2007, there were about 15 tropical storms a year, including eight hurricanes. “This is becoming more of an issue and it’s likely it will impact us more in the future,” he says.

While route planning avoids the worst storms, steps are still taken to ensure that cargo is safe when conditions get rough. Car carriers carry around 6,000 vehicles, and each is carefully lashed to the deck with nylon straps, while cargo over 10 tonnes is secured with chains.

“We do this every voyage, everywhere, regardless of the conditions,” says Göran Söderdahl, Head of Ocean Operations at WWL. “It’s a time-consuming process, but our aim is to deliver cargo in the same condition we receive it.”

Many of those working in Operations at WWL have, like Söderdahl, a background as a sea captain. “We bring a lot of experience to the table,” he says. “The way we lash the cargo and handle our vessels means we can deal with almost any kind of weather.”

When Hurricane Irene was about 72 hours from Baltimore, WWL’s crisis procedure for the city’s port swung into effect. Vehicles at the Vehicle Services Centre were moved away from storm drains, windows were taped and a communications plan launched. “We began internal communications, facility preparations and customer notifications to help minimise the potential impact of Irene,” says Barbara Pinto, Cargo Quality Team Leader. WWL’s crisis team was able to draw on its experience from the highly destructive Hurricane Ike at Galveston, Texas, in 2008.