Tag Archives: world’s deadliest supply chains

World’s Deadliest Supply Routes: Antarctica

Are you responsible for sending your people into danger? In a new Procurious blog series, The World’s Deadliest Supply Chains, we investigate the most high-risk supply chains out there…

By Thelma Amaro Vidales / Shutterstock 

The sight of 1900 rolls of toilet paper would not usually excite your typical urban dweller, but when the consignment supplies a remote Antarctica camp of 350 people for the whole winter it’s a case of unfettered joy and – of course – relief.

The most essential of household essentials was among the 3000 tonnes of provisions and equipment delivered by the chartered US vessel MV Ocean Giant to New Zealand’s Scott Base in January.

The supply drop – which can take up to nine days to unload – included 200 kilograms of coffee beans, 100 cans of peaches, a Toyota Landcruiser, two rowing machines and a triple-glazed window.

According to Antarctica New Zealand logistics manager Paul Woodgate, organisers need to think of everything the isolated community might need, including spare parts for water plants and heaters.

“We need supplies to keep the base clean, everyone fed and warm, and the water flowing,” he told Maori Television.

While routine, MV Ocean Giant’s delivery trip reflects the enormous task of supplying myriad human needs to the frozen wilderness.

While Antarctica might be known as the Lonely Continent, human activity abounds with no fewer than 36 permanent scientific and research bases operating there. In the summer months, many smaller facilities spring up too, all needing to be supplied by the mother camp.

Dangers lurks underneath every crevasse and ice flow, in an environment in which temperatures can fall to minus 90 degrees and winds can howl at more than 300 kilometres an hour.

As with Mt Everest, dozens of people have died on Antarctica’s icy expanses over the years – not just derring-do explorers but workers charged with ensuring the bases are supplied with thousands of items that city folk take for granted.

In 1976, 11 Argentinean airmen were killed when their plane crashed on a reconnaissance mission over Drakes Passage. In a tragic postscript, a helicopter dispatched to recover the bodies also crashed.

In 1971, a Hercules C-130 made a forced landing on a re-supply run to McMurdo Station (the US base on Ross Island that hosts Antarctica’s largest community).

No-one was injured. But the overseers of the US Antarctica program did their sums and realised that salvaging the aircraft would cost $US10m, compared with the $US38m replacement cost.

Seventeen years after it went down, the Hercules was fitted with skis, flown out and pressed into service once again. A testament, indeed, to the durability of the so-called ‘workhorse of the skies’.

As with the Argentinean incident a decade previously, the mission did not have a happy ending: in December 1987 two US sailors died when a different Hercules crashed, while conveying spare parts to the refurbished plane.

These days, the supply chain is made safer with technological advances such as GPS positioning, powerful ice breakers, carbon-fibre skis, freeze-proof laptops, satellite phones and sealed, all-weather runways.

But ‘safer’ is by no means ‘safe’, with many mishaps happening in more recent years.

In January 2016, helicopter pilot David Wood stepped from his aircraft and straight in a crevasse on the Western Ice Shelf, while on a routine mission to re-supply a fuel cache. He was rescued after four lonely hours, but subsequently died from hypothermia.

His death resulted in criminal charges being laid against Australia’s environment departments and a helicopter contractor.

To mitigate the ever-present dangers of Antarctica, governments are constantly stretching the envelope to make the complex logistics requirements that much safer.

In a breakthrough flight, a Royal Australian Air Force Flight C-17A in September 2017 supplied Davis Station from Hobart and then returned to the Tasmanian capital without landing at the base. The 10,000km round trip was made possible by a difficult mid-air refuelling exercise.

The plane air dropped nine tonnes of supplies – including fresh produce – to the base, which is inaccessible by sea from April to October.

Within the next decade, Antarctica’s logistics needs will only expand as more nations establish a presence there, if only to ‘fly the flag’ or with a view to claiming dibs on potential large oil and gas reserves in the future.

Most notably, China has established three bases and three airfields, reportedly spending more on its Antarctic program than any other country.

Six countries have territorial claims to Antarctica: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK.

But the Antarctic Treaty actually covers 53 countries, 29 having “consultative status”, which allows them to carry out research.

With 20 airports dotted around Antarctica, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are playing an increasingly prominent role – especially during winter months when sea access isn’t possible and roads on the continent are out of action.

“With more time and advancing technology, carrying goods to remote locations in Antarctica will only get easier,” says the Dubai-based Gulf Worldwide Logistics.

“The logistics industry is preparing for advancement in this continent over the next few years.” But again, ‘easier’ does not imply ‘safer’ and logistics operators perennially need to be alert to the dangers. Like the Emperor penguins, Antarctica is not the type of wild environment that can ever truly be tamed.

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Piracy Still Rules On The High Seas

Piracy may not quite be the world’s oldest profession, but for thousands of years plundering and pillaging on the high seas has struck terror into the hearts of more honest seafarers… 
Are you responsible for sending your people into danger? In a new Procurious blog series, The World’s Deadliest Supply Chains, we investigate the most high-risk supply chains out there.

Piracy may not quite be the world’s oldest profession, but for thousands of years plundering and pillaging on the high seas has struck terror into the hearts of more honest seafarers.

Along the journey – or should we say voyage – these seafaring brigands have developed a cuddly reputation as harmless Captain Featherswords with bushy beards and eye patches, bearing a Jolly Roger for show more than anything.

Even the feared 17th century English pirate Blackbeard was romanticised posthumously after a life of pillaging and murdering in 1718.

Of course, there’s nothing innocuous about latter-day piracy, which remains the scourge of merchant shipping in some of the world’s busiest transit lanes.

For a start, cutlasses have been replaced by high-speed landing boats, automatic weapons and even rocket-propelled grenades.

Modern cargo and tankers might not look vulnerable, but despite their gargantuan size they’re crewed by just a handful of people who – by convention – are unarmed.

The extent of piracy has always ebbed and flowed, but it re-entered the public consciousness when the disintegration of the Somalian state in the early 2000s spurred a surge in piracy across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

Recent activity has focused on the Gulf of Guinea and, more specifically, Nigerian waters.

Other modern piracy hotspots are the Straits of Malacca, Gibraltar and the Philippines. There have even been reports of ‘river piracy’ on the Danube in Serbia and Romania.

The enforcement problem with modern-day Blackbeards is that most of the piracy occurs on international waters, with many countries willing to turn a blind eye.

Over the last 10 years, the trends look to be heading the right way: according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, in 2017 there were 180 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery, compared with 267 attacks in 2007.

Of these, 15 resulted in 91 crew being taken hostage, with another 13 attacks resulting in 75 crew being kidnapped (that is, taken off the boat).

Sadly, three crew members were killed and six were injured.

The IMB’s updated figures suggest some slippage: in the first six months of 2018 there were 107 reports of successful or attempted attacks, compared with 87 for the same period last year.

Of these, 69 resulted in the pirates boarding and 11 in the ships being fired upon.  Across seven incidents, 102 crew members were taken hostage, compared with 63 previously.

Geographically, piracy is an ever-shifting activity: none of the 107 reported attacks was in the old hot spot of Somalia, while 31 were in Nigeria and 25 in Indonesia.

Unlike in Captain Phillips – the 2013 celluloid account of the US mariner’s struggle with Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean – the US navy is unlikely to steam to the rescue.

But the long-term trends suggest increased vigilance on the part of ship owners and a somewhat belated response from navies and maritime authorities.

In a celebrated case, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency recently apprehended 16 pirates attempting to board a tanker six nautical miles off the coast of Pulau Tinggi.

Given the vastness of international waters and extent of shipping activity, no boat can rely on protection being close at hand, and captains are adopting their own measures to protect crews and cargoes in vulnerable regions.

These remedies include razor wire on decks, hoses converted to sea water cannons, hardened bridges and even the use of mannequins as ‘armed’ guards. The high-end yachting sector has deployed laser dazzlers that can temporarily blind attackers before they board.

Not all of the solutions are high tech. Earlier this year, pirates attempted to board the merchant ship MV Kudos near the island of Sibago in the Philippines. They were fought off after the crew adopted the medieval siege trick of pouring boiling water on the assailants.

Of course, prevention is better than cure and crews in vulnerable areas are advised to maintain a 24-hour watch and radar vigilance.

The IMB’s not-for-profit piracy reporting centre provides an around-the-clock service for Masters to report hijack attempts and suspicious activity, with regular updates.

Despite the distress caused by modern pirates, at least their demands for monetary gains are clearer and easier to accede to than, say, the demands of politically inspired terrorists.

Unlike the chest of gold doubloons in the past, loot can take several forms.

In some cases, the culprits demand hostage money, leading to delicate negotiations as ship owners determine just how ambit the claims are.

(The 2012 Danish movie A Hijacking documents the bewilderment of a ship’s crew as the hijackers and the ship owner’s dispassionate head office bean counters quibble about what their lives are worth).

In extreme cases the pirates hijack the ship itself and take it to a friendly port for a new identity. In other cases, the contents of the ship’s safe and the crew members belonging will suffice.

The resilience of piracy is linked with poverty and upheaval resulting from civil war: they’re desperate acts carried out by desperate people. In the case of Somalia, fishermen became pirates after foreign boats took advantage of the lack of government by overfishing or dumping toxins in the waters.

In other cases, it’s the work of highly organised gangs.

Given the varying motives, we can never quite be sure why pirates are pirates, so let’s just say it’s because they ‘arrrr’.