Stolt Tank Containers provides global logistics services for the shipment of bulk liquid chemicals and food grade products.
Alongside a 40,000-strong fleet of tank containers, the company owns 22 full-service depots where tank cleaning is among the many facilities available to all tank container users and owners.
Stolt Tank Containers’ president, Mike Kramer, describes how the company has ensured continuity of service during the pandemic.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic first became apparent, we immediately slowed or stopped capital spending on projects, froze hiring of staff, reduced management salaries and halted all consultant and external legal spend,” said Kramer.
“Actions to minimise disruption to our services were prioritised by region and impact, and implemented by the end of March.
“To ensure COVID-safety for all, of course, we’ve adhered to all local health and governmental recommendation and requirements and made many adjustments to our processes and work practices.
“Our processes and systems have been tested multiple times in response to hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and even volcanic eruptions and they cater for the ability to be very much focused on each customer’s individual needs when in use.”
Kramer said that work-from-home programmes, supported by the provision of all necessary equipment, were introduced for as many staff as possible and the company found almost all managerial tasks could be performed remotely.
“For those who absolutely neede to work on site, social distancing was implemented and enabled by working in shifts and operating our depots and cleaning stations with a skeleton staff,” commented Kramer.
“Work stations and offices have been adapted to isolate workers from one another. Naturally, we’ve been providing and enforcing the wearing of appropriate personal protective equipment, as well as providing additional sanitation and cleaning in all facilities. Desks, hard surfaces and communal use areas such as restrooms and coffee bars are cleaned multiple times per day.” According to Kramer, a multi-channel approach to making sure all staff understood how to protect themselves and each other was introduced.
Hosting meetings, posters on walls and screensavers on computers have all been used to maintain awareness of the disease and help stop its spread.
Stolt has also been using the internal social media platform, Yammer, to support each other and to stay connected during the pandemic.
“Our business continuity plans have been extremely effective in allowing us to maintain all operations in all markets, while remaining focused on customers’ needs,” said Kramer.
“Always mindful of the possibility of disasters around the world, we had already built bespoke systems that link to both customers and vendors in case of such occurrences.
“Coupling these with extremely well-trained staff who understand our customers’ needs, right down to plant and order level, has enabled us to continue to deliver the service they expect, without interruptions.
“In fact the staff have been amazing, all around the world. I’m extremely proud of how well they’ve adapted to the work-from home process for an extended period, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed. We’ve received a huge amount of positive feedback from both customers and vendors about our responsiveness during the pandemic. “Of course, we can only control what goes on within our own business.
Many disruptions have still occurred in the wider context of global logistics, but we have made a point of keeping our customers informed about these so they can adjust their activities accordingly. “Throughout all of this, two things we haven’t had to change have been our standards of tank cleaning and wastewater treatment, because these were already so high.”
Kramer added that now that things were improving and the lockdown was easing, the company was witnessing volumes increase in some areas, but they are not back to pre-pandemic levels. He said: “We expect to see some improvement when more areas open and economies restart. Concern obviously lies in the depth of slowdowns and how long they will continue, given reduced consumer spending and supply chain impact. “Looking forward, our goal is to remain flexible and agile in meeting customer needs by offering services such as short and long-term storage in our depots and Stolthaven Terminals, as well as working with Stolt Tankers, our chemical tanker business, should shipments warrant a change in transport mode.”
Before COVID-19 struck, the main questions on everyone’s lips were to do with Brexit and China-US trade discussions. As a global company, challenges such as these and oil price fluctuations were part of everyday business life. “We are used to figuring out solutions,” said Kramer.
“So, even though these challenges remain on the table, we’re confident we’ll overcome them.” Fortunately, we were already ahead of the game in terms of environmental responsibility, with cost-saving biological wastewater processes in use at all our tank cleaning depots. The COVID-19 pandemic will not have any negative impact on our environmental goals. “Alongside this, more and more businesses are choosing to act more responsibly by returning to shipping liquids by tank container instead of using flexitanks. Given that one singleuse flexibag contains as much plastic as 7,000 single-use carrier bags, it’s the perfect solution for fulfilling CSR ambitions and responding to increasing consumer demand to cut plastic waste. “We continue to work with customers on various ESG audits such as ISO, Ecovadis and audits for International Marine Packed Cargo.”
Another already-in-place development that has proved invaluable in light of the pandemic was the way Stolt has digitalised administration and communication. The company said its new supplier portal brought efficiency to interactions with suppliers, for everything from agreeing prices to managing bookings and referencing important documents. In addition to improving productivity, information flow, response time and service levels, while reducing the time and money everybody spends on administration and communication, this digitalisation has provided a solution for all those who are now working remotely.
Despite the COVID-19 crisis, Stolt Tank Containers is continuing to expand its global depot network, increase services in all markets and extend services for storage and monitoring of tanks in depots. Temporarily-halted construction work on a new depot in Grangemouth, Scotland, has resumed. Its recently opened Sohar and Chemlog depots are ramping up, even though activity in Saudi Arabia was badly impacted by the pandemic. Meanwhile, storage facilities in Texas, US, Moerdijk in the Netherlands and Singapore are being expanded.
Kramer concluded: “Acting fast in response to the coronavirus pandemic has been absolutely crucial in enabling us to provide continuity of service. We are acutely aware that this isn’t yet over and will remain fully agile and flexible in preparedness for subsequent waves. “Remaining resilient and reliable, working together with customers to overcome all of the pandemic’s challenges, is what it’s all about.”
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