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Tales of Overseas Moving/Shipping Projects


Russian Tank to Vancouver, BC

As an overseas shipping company worth its salt, we too love a good challenge. One big one came our way in March 2007. A large film company in Hollywood North (Vancouver, BC) commissioned Astra International Moving & Shipping to import a large 1960 T55A Russian tank from England in the United Kingdom. The tank was required for filming purposes in Vancouver, BC.

The tank's weight of nearly 81,000 pounds put it far in excess of regular container traffic capacities. Thus, 20' or 40' containers could not accommodate the tank, nor were we able to dismantle it or even use a flat rack container where the width and height can be exceeded to a certain degree. The project was thus outside our regular shipping pattern to or from the UK. (We regularly export and import 20' and 40' containers of used personal effects and household goods to and from the UK.)

Both our President and our Marketing Manager, however, had many years of experience in bulk freight forwarding from previous employment experiences (a combined total of 50+ years of freight forwarding experience!), even though our company was just completing its 10th anniversary in July 2007.

We started to investigate means for shipping this self-propelled tank to the Canadian West Coast. With the research assistance of our English correspondents and counterparts, we first determined the dimensions of the tank. It measured 21' long x 11' wide x 8' high, and was clearly outside container dimensions that can only accommodate a maximum width of 7' 8" and a maximum height of 7' 2". Nor can a 40' container exceed a loading capacity of 57,200 lb.

Knowing the dimensions and weight restrictions for regular container vessels that are the norm these days in transatlantic traffic (since about 1965), we searched for a bulk freighter that could carry the tank from Liverpool, England, to Vancouver, BC, Canada. Needless to say, our search was fruitless – no such vessel could be found, nor, as we know, does Ro-Ro (roll on / roll off) vessel service exist between the UK and Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Meanwhile, we were investigating the customs and immigration paperwork that was required both in the UK on export and in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on arrival – a story in itself that included obtaining certificates that the tank was required only for filming purposes. This involved registering with the Controlled Goods Directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the United Kingdom, as well as the equivalent Ministry in Canada. This also implicated verifications that all armaments on the tank had been disabled. Having the documentary process under control, we could now investigate a possible shipping route and method.

While it might have been possible to ship via the Port of Tacoma, WA, USA, and then overland, for a variety of reasons – including stringent US customs requirements applicable since 9/11 – it was decided to favour a route not involving any transit via the United States. After researching all options, a process that took several weeks, we finally found the one and only possible routing not involving transhipment in the USA.

A large bulk carrier, very experienced in oversized shipments, asked us if we could reduce the weight by dismantling the tank at least partially. We told them that it was impossible, but that the tank was mobile, i.e., could be driven under its own power onto a Ro-Ro vessel. Delivery to a Ro-Ro vessel in turn had to be accomplished by finding a special low-bed truck.

Unfortunately, it turned out that no freighter or bulk carrier could be found to transport the tank from the UK to Vancouver, BC, Canada. Yet after further research and investigations, we found that we could move the tank from the UK to the Port of Vlissingen in the Netherlands and thence to Vancouver, BC, Canada. However, this too proved impossible to realize and we finally opted for a sailing from the UK to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, rather than directly to Vancouver, BC, which preference proved unattainable. However, now the good news was that we also avoided transhipment in the Netherlands, which might also have complicated customs procedures. Again, it would have been possible to ship to the Port of Tacoma, WA, on the US West Coast. However, due to customs clearance considerations, we preferred Halifax, NS.

As an aside, although the vessel operator chosen was familiar with shipping military equipment including tanks, in this the hitch was that on military shipments, the military personnel themselves drive the tanks and all their equipment on and off the vessel; while in this particular case, the port personnel had to load and offload the tank, which included having to drive the tank under its own power. Thus, we had to provide a driver's manual for driving the tank and supply this to the various on- and off-loading agencies. In this we enjoyed great help from the staff of the military museum in the UK, who not only provided us with drawings but even offered telephone assistance to the ship's crew in order to accomplish driving the tank on and off the vessel.

We now needed to find suitable transport from dock Halifax, Nova Scotia, to terminal Vancouver, BC. Investigating possible low-bed road transport across Canada as an alternative to expensive rail service, we found that though we could commission a suitable truck for the job, it turned out that our Canadian highways are closed for heavy equipment due to the thawing in spring time, and roads open only in mid to end of June especially across the prairies. So we were left with no alternative but rail to bring the tank to Vancouver, BC, from Halifax, utilizing a special railcar, which also included heavy lift arrangements, i.e., specialized cranes at both ends of the rail line and special lashing. This move and the preloading and subsequent delivery all needed a lot of detailed coordination and logistics that we handled by constantly keeping on top of the tank's logistical progress, and constantly coordinating with the various agencies involved and passing on proper and complicated driving instructions for the tank to the various handlers (origin to port, shore to ship, ship to shore, terminal to rail, rail to road, etc.).

Oh yes, we of course had to have the tank cleaned – it was at first delivered to our UK terminal unclean – at origin prior to shipping so as to also satisfy the importation requirements of Agriculture Canada, not just Canada Customs, partially because of concern over Mad Cow disease in the UK. While this led to missing a sailing, we still were able to ship and deliver the tank within the necessary time frame required for filming to commence in Vancouver, BC, on time once we had overcome a last minute hitch because of a bonding requirement so that we could clear customs in Vancouver, BC, rather than in either Halifax, Nova Scotia, or Montreal, Quebec, which proved optimal.

The logistics and coordination necessary in this type of move are indeed complicated, intricate and requiring constant monitoring. Compared to this move, our regular overseas shipments of used personal effects and household goods are a lot easier to orchestrate, but here too vigilance and constant attention is needed to meet all the requirements and pitfalls of overseas shipping over various foreign territories and countries and the high seas, whose rules and regulations must be realized and obeyed – something that most local or long distance moving companies are unschooled to handle.

So what's left to do? We, of course, want to watch the movie in which this tank is featured!


Grappling with a Yarder to New Zealand

We quickly knew it would not fit into any seagoing container when we received a request for shipping a huge Cypress Grapple Yarder from British Columbia to Taupo, New Zealand. The yarder measured 20' long by 12' 6" wide by 12' 5" high and weighed 66,430.0 kg. So we searched for a suitable bulk vessel that could accommodate the 174.66 cubic metres of this forestry machinery and the accessorial equipment that formed parts of the yarder, such as a boom and gantry that measured 59' long x 5' wide x 5' 5" high and weighing 20,000.0 lbs by itself.

Exploring routes and exit points and various ocean liners and freight rates later, we found a suitable sailing from Vancouver, BC, to Wellington, New Zealand, that was also the most economical and most competitive. Our principals were very happy with our sourcing and research into the logistical possibilities and necessities, and awarded us a contract for uplifting and exporting the equipment from Terrace, BC, where it was purchased. Finding a vessel that could accept this cargo was no easy feat. We searched high and low for a suitable vessel and finally found one that would call on Lynnterm in North Vancouver, BC. When all preconditions had been fulfilled, we booked on a tramper vessel to Wellington, New Zealand. Total shipping charges came close to CAD 100,000.00 at the time.

We coordinated and supervised the required inland haul to the Port of Vancouver, BC. The yarder was fitted onto a low-bed truck and the boom onto a flat-rack HiBoy truck. Much detailed work was involved in assessing a permitted route over the roads for this very large and very heavy machinery. We located a seven-axle bed maxed out for weight, and helped coordinate maximum overweight and oversize permits. To move under its own power for loading, the machinery required some repairs prior to pre-haul. A pilot car was hired to accompany the journey over BC's roads.

We then undertook special planning to obtain reservations and receiving of the trucks at the docks. Clearly marking the boom and yarder with their individual weights and measures was one of these preconditions. We issued a required dock delivery receipt for each load, one that separated the weights for each item.

On route and prior to delivery to the dock, we also arranged for a hot water and chemical cleansing for this used forest machinery, as it could not enter New Zealand with any dirt on it. To permit vessel boarding, we even had to arrange for additional cleaning prior to export. This was accomplished partially with the help of the longshoremen at Lynnterm. We also arranged for two special lifts for two of the items, and then lashed items together for transportation. Putting blocks into the box under the hauler or into the drum well was evaluated. The pins for the tower were bundled and placed with the blocks. Radios, chargers and other portables such as rechargeable lights were boxed together with the operator's manual, and then strapped behind the cabin seat. Ropes that were removed from the tower after cutting the boom guard were used to lash the tower straw line sheave with the blocks on hauler with hand rails for hauler strapped to the tower. We determined that the generator could be strapped in front of the guy rope fairlead on top of the tower.

Stevedoring at Lynnterm accepted the labels we created for the various pieces, and checked for correct measures of all equipment and asked to verify all the parts inside the crated goods. Suddenly, there was a problem with the discovery of an enormous increase in the volume of the shipment, especially the boom. The load could not be stowed under deck. The optimal choice became loading the yarder on deck, close to the bridge centre. A covering vessel inventory on dock was prepared.

We also arranged for logistical and documentary processes for the port terminals, the mates receipt, the cargo manifest and the ocean bill of lading or waybill as well as the Canadian export control documentation. Throughout we closely liaised with our client, with the suppliers in BC and with the client's bankers in New Zealand. It was decided to wave an initial Letter of Credit request. Instead, we were entrusted with the supervision and settlement of all payables. We made sure all charges for the yarder and accessories were duly paid and transferred upon delivery to the dock. Finally, we obtained timely transfer of the entire shipping costs via our freight invoice that was then settled by international bank-to-bank transfer.

It was, in all, a time-consuming but very exciting international logistics and shipping quest.

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Norman Rockwell Painting to Honolulu

In 1980 at Astra International (then in Richmond, BC), we were about to crate and air freight a painting to be shipped from Vancouver, BC, to Honolulu, HI, on behalf of the wife of a Richmond, BC, lawyer. She brought it in and we leaned it against a wall in our terminal to be crated when it somehow occurred to me to telephone the owner's wife back and ask about the painting's value. "Oh," she said, "about $100,000."

It was then I learned that it was a lesser known Norman Rockwell original oil-on-canvass painting titled 'Lady with the Lamp' or something very similar. The painting was going to Honolulu to an art auction because, she said, "My husband doesn't want it anymore. It was hanging in his office." $100,000 was an enormous value in 1980 – you could buy the 5-acre estate that we lived on in White Rock, BC, for that amount of money. That same estate is today valued at approximately $5 million!

I immediately stopped the crating process and asked our underwriters to first issue us with a special insurance rider for this artwork before our crew touched the painting for crating. God forbid they should accidentally damage it.

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