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How That New Brand of Hand Sanitizer Traveled to Your Hands

Walking down the cleaning products aisle of your local grocery store, or in the personal protective equipment (PPE) section of your pharmacy, you might have noticed some new arrivals these past few months: unfamiliar brands of hand sanitizer, disinfectant sprays and wipes, masks, gloves, face shields, and all the other products we need most to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most of them traveled halfway around the world to get there, and Horizon Air Freight helped many of them make the trip.

In the initial weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, many shelves were emptied of all those cleaning products, personal protective equipment, and other critical supplies for protecting us from infectious diseases. The major manufacturers — Lysol, Clorox, Purell, and all the other household names — simply couldn’t keep up with the radically increased demand created by the pandemic. The problem was exacerbated by the impact of emergency border closings on the global supply chain, which grounded many planes and strained the capacity of the global commercial shipping fleet.

Much of the available supply was diverted to healthcare facilities. Consumers were left to make do with their existing supplies or homemade alternatives.

Increased Demand in Commercial Shipping Leads to a Broader Mission

Here at Horizon, our first direct experience of the increased demand came from our commercial shipping clients, who have all been placing large, urgent orders for supplies to keep their crews safe. As we discussed in a recent post about the cruise ship industry, we even shipped thousands of pounds of PPE to a shipyard to protect the workers renovating a cruise ship in dry dock.

There are complexities to shipping disinfectants and hand sanitizers, some of which are classified as hazardous materials, but it’s well within our expertise. Throughout the pandemic, our clients have turned to us to get the protective supplies they need, where they need them, with all possible haste.

The surge in demand from our shipping clients prompted Alex Durante, Horizon’s director of global sales, to wonder who else might be struggling to get these critical supplies to where they were needed most. “If my clients’ ships are buying this,” he thought, “there’s got to be a whole lot of other people buying this too.”

Durante reached out to U.S. distributors who were trying to bring large shipments of protective supplies into the country as quickly as possible to restock the shelves at grocery stores and pharmacies. Many were working with smaller manufacturers in China and the Philippines. These were distributors who had previously been mostly shut out of the U.S. and other global markets by the dominance of the major brands. Now, with the pandemic creating historic demand, these smaller players had dual opportunities to open up new markets for their businesses while helping to slow the spread of disease.

Horizon stepped in as a logistics partner, helping expedite the protective supplies produced by these smaller manufacturers to the distributors who could get them on the shelves for U.S. consumers.

The Hunt for Sanitizers, Gloves, and Dispensers Never Sleeps

Shipping disinfecting products and PPEs was soon a 24/7 operation at Horizon. “Due to the time difference between Asia and the U.S., we’re working with the manufacturers in China and the Philippines at night,” says Durante. “And by day, we’re coordinating with our U.S. distributors.”

Many of these products are regulated by the FDA, so licenses must be in place and all documents in order prior to shipping. When the shipments touch down on U.S. soil, U.S. Customs often has a lot of questions. Logistics partners not experienced in importing such products can incur long and costly delays.

Sometimes we’re shipping small samples so that distributors can test these products and verify their safety and efficacy. Other days, we’re booking 15 containers full of supplies as swiftly and cost effectively as possible.

This takes a lot of proactive scheduling. Because the demand is so great and the shipping lanes so full, we don’t wait for an order to be ready. We’re booking space on ships weeks in advance, coordinating with manufacturers to know when their shipments will be available so there is always a steady stream of products loading, shipping and delivering.

One recent shipment included 95,000 pounds of disinfectant sprays in two containers. We’ve handled over a dozen such shipments in recent weeks.

Some of the most urgent supplies, we fly in. We recently flew in four multi-ton shipments of sanitary wipe dispensers, of the sort you’ve probably seen at the entrances to offices, apartment buildings, doctor’s offices, and stores.

Keeping the Economy in Motion

With an effective and widely distributed vaccine still, at best, many months away, the demand for all these cleaning supplies and PPEs likely won’t recede anytime soon. “This is going to be the way of life for the foreseeable future,” says Durante.

Before the present crisis, many of us took these products for granted. Hand sanitizer, disinfecting sprays, and all the rest were readily available, a familiar and useful commodity to which we rarely gave much thought. Today, in the midst of the pandemic, we all see how critical they are for healthcare workers saving lives, for families trying to stay healthy, and for everyone trying to keep the world economy in motion.

At Horizon, keeping the world in motion is what we do best, and we’ll keep doing our part for as long as the need continues.

Pulling Rabbits Out of Hats to Connect the World

Horizon’s Bridget Aglio Keeps a Major Undersea Cable Operator Shipshape and On-Schedule

At Horizon, we have the privilege and pleasure of working with many customers doing remarkable work around the world. Commercial fleets are the foundation of the global economy, and offshore platforms keep that economy powered and running. Fishing fleets feed us well, and research vessels help us better understand our planet. Military vessels keep our seas safe, protecting us all. Our customers inspire us, and we’re honored to support their important work.

One of our customers develops, deploys, and operates undersea communications cable. They’re one of the largest and most respected companies in this space, and for more than half a century they’ve connected the world with the backbone of the information economy. Whether you’re conducting international business via video conference, making an online purchase from an overseas provider, sharing data from a remote research station, or placing an international call to a friend or family member, there’s a good chance our customer made it possible.

Their cable-laying and cable repair ships are often at sea for 2-3 months at a time, laying or maintaining thousands of miles of cable, then only in port to resupply for a day, sometimes only a few hours. Even minor delays are costly to them, with potential six-figure revenue losses and heavy contract penalties.

That’s way, for all their spares and equipment, they turn to Horizon.

“When I need to get something delivered,” says the customer’s senior procurement manager, “and I can’t have any screw-ups in the whole process of pickup to delivery to the vessel, Horizon is someone who you learn to rely upon. So many times they’ve pulled a rabbit out of a hat.”

Horizon’s Bridget Aglio leads the team that supports this customer, and, as Horizon CEO Steve Leondis says of her, “She pulls rabbits out of hats all day long.”

Ship-Stopper Saved by an Overnight Repack

Netherlands to Taiwan

One night not long ago, Aglio received a call from the customer. An engine failure had a ship dead in the water in Taiwan, in the Port of Kaohsiung. A vendor in Amsterdam had the parts needed to repair it, but the oversized pipes weren’t properly packed for air freight. No air carrier would accept them.

The vendor could outsource repacking of the parts, but it would take days to complete, days that would cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Aglio contacted Horizon’s Amsterdam office, and, in the middle of the night, they sent a truck to pick up the goods from the vendor. Horizon’s team repacked the pipes overnight and had them on a plane to Taiwan the next morning. Less than 48 hours after the initial call, the ship was repaired and got back to work.

Flying Flares to Seoul During a Global Pandemic

Spain to South Korea

Transporting explosive materials internationally is complicated even in normal times. Such shipments have to be specially packaged. Dangerous goods forms have to be filled out and approved. Importers must be licensed to accept the goods. And only providers with specialized certifications can do any of this.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 80% of planes grounded and many international borders closed, it all might seem impossible.

But our customer needed a delivery of new safety flares to replace expiring flares on one of their ships. The company doesn’t compromise on the safety of its crews. There was a narrow delivery window available when the ship would be in Seoul for one day. If the flares didn’t arrive, the company would have to idle the ship until they did, costing the ship thousands of dollars in additional expenses.

Flares and other explosive materials have to be transported on cargo-only planes, so all passenger flights were out. And closed borders eliminated what would have been the standard routing for the shipment.

Aglio found a way, an alternate routing with available cargo-only flights and customs clearances she could navigate during the pandemic. (Like a good magician, she won’t reveal all the secrets of this routing.) Her team received the flares, verified they were properly packed, issued the relevant dangerous goods forms, and got them on a plane. Aglio also coordinated with Horizon’s South Korean consignee to confirm they would be able to clear the shipment upon arrival.

Hours before the company’s ship arrived in the Port of Incheon, the flares were there, awaiting it.

Beat the Vessels to Port

Aglio does reveal one of her rabbit-pulling secrets. “The key,” she says, “is to get there before the vessel arrives. It gives you more time for customs clearance, and more time in case of a problem. If a truck breaks down, you’ll have time to find another to complete the delivery.”

Add in her passionate commitment to her customers and some marine logistics magic, and you begin to understand how Aglio keeps pulling those rabbits out of those hats. It’s just another day on the job for her as she helps our customer connect the world.

How Cruise Lines are Preparing for a Post-Pandemic World

COVID-19 Hits the Cruise Industry Hard

It’s no surprise or secret that the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a major economic blow to cruise ship lines. Some of the earliest, most gripping stories of COVID-19’s spread outside of China involved quarantined cruise ships searching for safe harbor in the viral storm. After some initial scrambling to bring home everyone already at sea, most cruise ships have been in port and empty of passengers, awaiting word that it’s safe to sail again. 

Miami is the home port for many of the cruise lines in the Western Hemisphere, especially those sailing to the Caribbean and South and Central America. It’s also the headquarters of Horizon’s cruise ship division and home to our dedicated cruise industry warehouse facilities, which include refrigerated and frozen storage for the millions of pounds of food we move to cruise ships in a typical year. But as we write this, Miami is a hotspot of coronavirus cases, so we don’t anticipate cruise operations will restart there anytime soon.

“They really need to get the whole state under control before Miami-based cruise lines start thinking about cruising again,” says Alex Durante, Horizon’s director of global sales.

Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the CDC announced it was extending it’s No Sail Order (PDF) until September 30, so, at least for U.S.-embarking cruise ships, the wait continues.

That doesn’t mean that nothing is happening aboard their ships. We’ve been shipping a lot of food to feed onboard crew members who were temporarily banned from disembarking due to quarantine regulations. We’ve also shipped a high volume of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect onboard crews, and, in one recent case, we shipped thousands of pounds of PPE to an entire shipyard to protect workers renovating a cruise ship in dry dock. Masks, gloves, face shields, hand sanitizer, disinfecting aerosol sprays: we’ve been getting it all to cruise ships around the world to keep their people safe and healthy as they prepare for what’s next.

Of necessity, we’ve developed some rapid expertise in hand sanitizers and disinfectants then passed that along to the cruise lines we serve. Sanitizers and disinfectants with high levels of alcohol are classified as hazardous freight, making them more complicated and expensive to export. We’ve been recommending alternatives with lower levels of alcohol paired with other chemicals that help to fight germs and viruses. “Buy non-hazardous,” says Durante, “and it’s a lot more cost-effective and efficient to get it to you.” It saves our customers money while still keeping everyone safe.

Smaller Adventure Lines Sailing Soon

Some of the boutique cruise lines we serve — especially those offering adventure cruises to remote areas — may start sailing again sooner than the larger lines, with embarkations from countries presently safe and open. (A few have already started.)

“If we’re shipping them ammunition to protect themselves from polar bears,” says Durante, “the barriers to reentry are probably lower.”

These smaller lines can keep all their passengers together during excursions, and it’s easier to test and screen everyone in the controlled, manageable environments they’re able to provide.

“If they’re cruising to Antarctica, French Polynesia, Greenland, or other safe areas,” says Durante, “they’re likely opening sooner.”

A Longer Wait for Large Cruise Lines

For the larger cruise lines, however, and for any lines sailing to or from countries still under heavy restrictions, the wait continues. In the meantime, most are already planning ahead for a post-pandemic world.

There are still a lot of unknowns. Will cruise lines screen passengers before they board? If so, we may be shipping them a lot of forehead thermometers and test kits. We know we’ll be shipping more gloves, masks, and sanitizers for the foreseeable future. Will buffets be replaced with table service dining? If so, that may impact the food and service equipment we’re shipping.

“Whenever the CDC and the governing bodies in other countries give the green light to start sailing again,” says Durante, “we have the infrastructure in place to support them. Whatever they need, we’ll get it to them, when and where they need it.”

From Keeping an Overhaul On-Schedule to Shipping Food All Over the World

Horizon first started supporting cruise ships several years ago when we handled some emergency overnight deliveries from Germany to the Bahamas to keep a major ship overhaul on schedule. The supplier knew Horizon due to previous urgent shipments we handed for them and recommended us to the cruise line as the forwarder who could get the parts there on-time.

“The shipowner was very happy,” says Durante, “and he asked, ‘Who did these emergencies? I never expected we’d see those parts on time.’”

The same cruise line’s logistics department then asked Durante if Horizon could help with their food deliveries. They were shipping 7,000 pounds of food per week from California to French Polynesia. “They wanted to buy wholesale in the U.S. instead of paying a fortune in port,” says Durante, “but the shipments were causing them a tremendous amount of trouble.”

Horizon and our Los Angeles partner put together an arrangement with a refrigerated and frozen warehouse in California, then set up weekly consolidated delivery schedules of food and beverages from various West Coast vendors. More than three years later, we’re still shipping 7,000-10,000 pounds of food via air for them each week.

That initial opportunity led Horizon to launch our cruise ship division, with a dedicated team and facilities initially assembled by Durante. From our new state-of-the-art refrigerated and frozen warehouse facilities in Miami and L.A., to providing up-to-the-minute statuses of every single purchase order electronically, our services were immediately in high demand. We started shipping food to cruise ships all over the world: millions of pounds of it each year.

“We went from spare parts,” says Durante, “to shipping high-end wine, lobsters, ice cream, and Porterhouse steaks. Anything and everything the guests wanted, we made the necessary logistics arrangements to get it to them.”

That eventually led to keeping cruise ships supplied with everything else they needed, from engine parts to watches and pearl necklaces for their onboard jewelry stores. 

Unlike other commercial maritime industries, the cruise industry needs two very distinct kinds of support from a maritime logistics company.

The technical division of a cruise line is very much like the technical division of a container ship company, a fishing fleet, or any of the other maritime sectors Horizon serves. We get them the parts and supplies they need to keep their ships running safe, able, and on-time.

Then there’s the hotel or hospitality division, which has far more in common with a hotel in a major urban center than a tanker ship or offshore rig. For cruise ship hospitality divisions, in addition to food and beverage items, we ship a lot of toiletries and cleaning chemicals, promotional merchandise such as mugs and T-shirts, key cards, and equipment and supplies for onboard entertainment.

“If you can ship perishable food,” says Durante, “and are able to successfully and consistently navigate through the complexity of what these shipments entail, then all the rest is easy.”

Sailing to See the World Again

At Horizon, we work every day with people who spend their lives traveling through the awe-inspiring beauty of the open seas while experiencing the many cultures and countries of this wide world. Most people don’t have such opportunities in their daily lives, but cruise ships can give them that experience, that adventure.

We look forward, for many reasons, to the day when the pandemic is brought under control. And we look forward to the time when cruise ships can get back to what they do best: give people adventures, vacations, and entertainment at sea. Whenever the time is right, we’ll be there to support them.