A major climate conference. Two cruise ships. Two ports. Time pressure. More than 2000 essential workers. A multi-cultural melting pot. Covid-19 risk. A complex logistical puzzle. And two company teams working together for the first time on their first joint charter project.
That was the backdrop for the debut collaboration under a newly formed partnership between vessel charter and logistics specialist Landry & Kling Global Cruise Services (L&K) and port agency services provider Inchcape Shipping Services.
L&K took the lead in the partnership as they joined forces to handle a pair of ships providing auxiliary accommodation at the recent COP26 event in Glasgow.
Given the combined experience and expertise of both companies, one would have imagined this project would have been plain sailing, especially as L&K had facilitated the cruise ferry Silja Europa to house 1000 police officers for the G7 summit in Cornwall earlier this year.
Not so, says L&K Chief Executive Joyce Landry. “This proved to be a massive multi-faceted undertaking on a different scale with extraordinary logistical and other challenges that severely tested the resources and ingenuity of the combined 20-strong team,” she explains.
Last-minute timing for massive operation
But at the same time, their efficiently co-ordinated response to the diverse difficulties of the event charter also demonstrated on the ground the companies’ respective strengths and common culture with a solution-oriented work ethic. “In short, it showed the power of teamwork,” Landry says.
L&K was this summer assigned the task of finding additional housing by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for the major UN climate conference held over the first two weeks of November and it called upon Inchcape to screen and recommend port facilities in and around Glasgow for the event charter.
Acting as broker, L&K canvassed ship operators with the requirements from the FCDO to identify potential vessels for charter, which resulted in initial recommendations for nine ships, and was also tasked with total logistics management for the port stays.
A pair of Baltic Sea cruise ferries, the Silja Europa and Tallink Romantika both owned by Estonia-based Tallink Grupp, were finally procured for the vessels’ respective charterers – a security firm and an events production firm – supplying essential workers for the conference.
While the Silja Europa charter was secured about 45 days beforehand, L&K was left waiting until the last minute for a decision by the FCDO on how many vessels would be needed as hotel capacity in Glasgow previously used for Covid-19 quarantine cases became available for conference delegates.As it turned out, L&K was given less than two weeks to secure the Romantika, which had to be hastily diverted to Glasgow from its course from Morocco to Estonia. This put pressure on all parties to get crew flown in and procure supplies for the vessel that was docked at King George V (KGV) dock in Glasgow, with the Silja Europa subsequently tied up at Inchgreen port in Greenock.
Creative solutions for record turnaround
Landry explains that this also required Inchcape to turn around the necessary technical and regulatory clearances for the Romantika in record time, showing the benefit of its close working relationship with port authorities, as well as quickly mobilise its wide network of local vendors.
But it also meant repurposing both KGV, a commercial port that normally handles only cargo, and the now-derelict Inchgreen cargo port to cope with cruise passengers, so Inchcape had to install marquees for security due to the lack of passenger terminals, provide gangways as well as arrange shuttle transport and parking facilities.
This was necessary to handle initial registration of over 2000 passengers quartered on both vessels but also embarkation and disembarkation for efficient transit of workers in early-morning shift changes for the conference.
That was made more difficult by basic gangways that initially had to modified by a local carpenter enlisted by Inchcape to install boards so they could handle passengers with luggage but then became treacherous chutes due to rain and mud, an issue fixed by nailing down doormats.
In this regard, Inchcape came up with a creative solution to cut time in half for disembarkation of around 800 workers from the Silja Europa by installing a double gangway, enabling them to make their 4am shift and 600 returning workers to embark more quickly in harsh weather conditions.
Prioritising human safety with Covid-19 challenge
The issue of passenger processing was made more complicated by the Covid-19 situation that required mandatory mask-wearing and daily testing of all onboard, with test results uploaded via a website to the UK’s National Health Service.
This initially meant Inchcape procuring essential PCR test kits from a local supplier before the FCDO took over testing and, when positive cases emerged, these had to be ferried away for quarantine in Covid taxis arranged by Inchcape.
The port agent also stepped in to arrange a local laundry service due to the lack of such facilities onboard, with regular truck transits and the use of cranes for on and offloading of laundry.
Landry says keeping tabs on vendor costs was a key factor in which Inchcape played an important role in helping to minimise expenses by leveraging its business relationships with local service providers to negotiate on price, as well as managing disbursement accounts. Inchcape also ensures that only strictly vetted compliant vendors are used for strategic sourcing and procurement.
This was demonstrated when Inchcape insisted the cost of freshwater pipes that needed to be installed at Inchgreen should be borne by the port, rather than the charterer, and also negotiated a lower price for replacement of a defective crane.
Cost-effective and compliant vendor network
“Inchcape’s extensive local contact network of compliant vendors was vital to securing key services such as catering and transport at short notice, enabling it to respond quickly and efficiently to spontaneous requirements when time was of the essence, while also keeping control of costs,” Landry says.
This included procuring within 48 hours catering for halal cuisine unexpectedly required by around 80% of the multi-racial mix of UK nationals on both ships – including Indian, Pakistani, Fijian and Nigerian – that also posed some cultural integration challenges onboard.
Inchcape enlisted security personnel to handle security on the Romantika by patrolling elevators and corridors 24/7 to ensure calm and stability onboard for workers on 12-hour shift patterns.
But they were suddenly called into action on the Romantika when it was learned Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrier was set to dock nearby in Glasgow, prompting a security alert as the ship was locked down amid fears of a boarding by the protest group, though these proved unfounded.
Calm in the storm
It was though more difficult to resist the volatile Scottish weather as high winds and rain damaged a gangway on the Romantika and almost ripped the Silja Europa from its moorings before Inchcape came to the rescue by procuring a pair of tugs to push the vessel into the dock.
“We found that, whatever was thrown at the Inchcape team, they did not bat an eyelid and remained level-headed in finding solutions under very trying circumstances. There were some hair-raising moments but always a sense of calm from Inchcape in the eye of the storm,” Landry says.
“In addition, they were always available whenever we called, even at weekends while spending time with their families, and were responsive to requests above and beyond the call of duty.”
Inchcape’s Global Sector Head for the Cruise Industry, Grant Holmes, states: “It’s great to receive such positive feedback from Landry & Kling as this was the first opportunity for Inchcape to support their global cruise charter leadership on the ground from a port operations perspective. We now look forward to further exciting projects in the future.”
Under their partnership, Inchcape is the selected port agency service provider for L&K when securing charters for clients, which Landry says is a “win-win deal” for all parties as the pair pursue new projects after their challenging debut at COP26.
“This experience and the strong collaboration we have developed has proven to me that we have the right partnership. Together we have shown we can mutually pull off really complex projects. If we can do this, we can do anything,” she concludes.