T&G Global has chartered a ship to take about 31 million apples to Antwerp, as a way around potential container shortages and port closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Baltic Spring is currently (Tuesday and Wednesday) loading the last apples from Hawke’s Bay at Napier Port, after a last-ditch packing effort over the weekend.
Craig Betty, Director of Operations for T&G Global says: “In the current climate, it was risky relying completely on our usual shipping programme and we needed to do everything possible to support our growers and get their fruit to markets in Europe. So, we pulled out all the stops. We have 5,400 pallets going on the Baltic Spring, most of it is JAZZ, Braeburn and Pink Lady apples.
“The uncertainly in the supply chain due to COVID-19 made us re-think alternatives to ensure customers in Europe receive our produce.
“Looking at what happened in China, there was congestion in ports and in associated feeder ports. As a result, the ports were full, containers weren’t being turned around as fast as normal for re-use, and refrigerated container plugs at the port were also at capacity. The labour force was reduced under lockdown which affected delivery to customers and also reduced shipping sailings over this period. It was this uncertainty which we wanted to get in front of for our European-bound apples.
“It’s been a huge effort that’s come together over the last six weeks. We’ve had team members from our European and New Zealand business working together, including 13 packhouses in Nelson and Hawke’s Bay. That gives you a good idea about the sheer quantity of apples we’re talking about.
“This weekend, our team at our Hawke’s Bay packhouse at Whakatu were still packing the fruit to go on the ship today and tomorrow. It’s just in time,” said Craig.
The team have worked with packhouses, cool stores, the shipping line, insurers, ports, stevedores and transport partners to make this happen.
“Even though we’ve gone to Level 3 today, the vessel is loading right now under a Level 4 operating structure which the transport company, stevedores and crew must follow. From a T&G perspective, we were very privileged to be able to operate as an essential business under Level 4, and we’re maintaining those same COVID-19 safe work practices throughout Level 3.
“Our charter ship is following on the heels of the loading of a kiwifruit charter vessel, so we’re using all of the same parties to load our vessel, as all the operational mapping has been set in place.
“And we’re watching it remotely. There’s a live port cam that let the team watch the Nelson load last week and again this week in Napier.”
The ship arrived in Nelson on Thursday, and loaded apples for two days before sailing to Napier to load on Tuesday and Wednesday. The apples will be stored in Belgium before being repacked in the Netherlands and Germany, for sale across Europe.