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HeavyTorque Issue 1 - Crossing The Boundaries



There is no underestimating the value of international trade. Many companies rely heavily on exports to in order to grow, and hence, have to deal with the transportation of goods to other markets on a regular basis. If said company is a producer of small parts, while it doesn’t make it easier, there are certain advantages over those who are responsible for manufacturing large loads. In turn, these bulky items cause issues on freight forwarders, who have the overall responsibility from getting from A to B. Containers loaded onto cargo ships, but what about when the heavy loads are larger than the dimensions of even the largest container?

Moving products via sea is obviously a much longer process than by air, or even, sometimes, by road – that much is a given – and this point is typically factored in to a scenario of moving heavy loads.

The DFDS Seaways Terminal at Immingham – situated on the South Bank of the River Humber in central England – is the UK’s busiest port by tonnage, and is, therefore, prepared for all-comers when abnormal loads are considered. Ad-hoc shipments call for careful, thorough consideration, but even those that are scheduled to move on one of its regular Ro-Ro (roll-on, roll-off) services need advanced planning. Most operators in that area have ships that can handle heavy loads, and any restrictions that do exist allow substantial items to move across the seas.


With DFDS Seaways, the normal procedure is to contact the company to discuss what has to be moved, and how it can be done. From that initial contact, through generating and approving a quote, to completing all of the other necessary paperwork, it would typically take a week.

This timescale would be for anything under 100 tonnes, with rough dimensions of 5m in height, 4m in width and a length of 15-20m. Space isn’t an issue, because the larger cargo is merely taking the space of other smaller pieces of cargo, and in many cases the payload is less than the equivalent number of containers.

The amount of preparation taken to organise such a move isn’t too difficult to manage, says John Kendall, project cargo coordinator at DFDS Seaways. “Anything heavier than 100 tonnes takes slightly longer, to factor in such things as lifting needs, the ships’ loadings and securing needs for cargoes to remain safe at sea, for example.”

“Most traffic is booked by regular forwarders,” continues Kendall. “We have established relationships with them, and they can book their own cargo onto the ship themselves via a web-based system, which allows us to review the booking before we depart. The process is similar to booking a seat on an airline – because it allows everything to be pre-arranged, rather than working on an ad-hoc basis.”

A caveat is added however, that if an operators requires something bespoke, there are a number of smaller, heavy-lift Ro-Ro ships around, and also some larger players do operate heavy lift vessels, who will typically charge a lot more than can be expected to pay for a standard crossing.

Condor Ferries
Condor Ferries Commodore Clipper
Boat Shift Transport
Boat Shift Transport the Chic Lady


For those looking to transport heavy loads to or from the continent and Scandinavia, DFDS alone offers a number of different fixed route options across the North Sea. These include, on a weekly cycle, six times with Sweden, twice with Norway, six with Denmark, five times with Germany, and six with Rotterdam.

“In that sense there isn’t much flexibility, but on occasion, if something had to be moved by water, we could make arrangements, and take it to another port, but again, there are extra costs involved,” says Kendall. “Occasionally this happens – and we are happy to oblige – but most operators tend to use our regular services.”

The situation at Condor Ferries is a little different. “We operate two conventional ferries – Commodore Goodwill and Commodore Clipper – on daily sailings between Portsmouth and the Channel Islands. Commodore Goodwill is a freight-only vessel, meanwhile Commodore Clipper is a combined freight and passenger ferry,” explains Steve Champion-Smith, Condor Ferries’ commercial freight director. “We provide out-of-gauge and heavy loading capability twice a day from Portsmouth to the Channel Islands, and our team works with customers, and the ports, regarding all technical details of vehicles 72 hours in advance, for port approval and berth changes where required.”


Champion-Smith says the Commodore Goodwill has a height loading limit of 6m and the maximum width is “in accordance with local road regulations on application, but would not normally exceed 4m”. The maximum weight is 80,000kg, at 10,000kg per axle.

“Any application to ship a vehicle over 50,000kg requires written drawings of vehicle with axle weights and spread for Portsmouth Port Authority to authorise,” he advises. “Due to the nature of the road network in the Channel Islands, there are road width/length and height restrictions in both Jersey and Guernsey. Our team works with customers on their individual requirements, working with the authorities for individual applications and authorisation where necessary.”

Back on the East coast of the UK, the ability to carry much larger loads exists. One Ro-Ro ship carried a piece that was 100m-long years ago, and DFDS says the width restrictions are only dictated by the design of the ship. “There are a lot of RoRo ships where the deck height is 4.8-5m. We’ve some that have just over 6m deck heights and others with more than 7m,” explains Kendall. “The highest item for a Ro-Ro unit we have transported is more than 25m.” Most of the time, the limitation comes from what can actually moved on the road network, he reckons. “If something can get on the road, even if it is going one mile from where it docks, there will be some way of handling it on the ship. It might not be able to go onto a standard North Sea RO-RO ship, but we could move it somehow.”

Another issue to deal with is paperwork. The DFDS line is that if it’s on wheels, the company doesn’t have to talk to anyone about it. If it is coming off a charter vessel it would have to liaise with the Association of British Ports, but more from a financial point of view, rather than anything else. There might be a need to have road furniture removed, but the company assures that it hasn’t ever had any problems with that.

“There is a DFT-approved high, wide and long road network linking Immingham with most UK destinations, but anything that is out of this range has to get a special movement order,” explains Kendall. “For us, it is more about how that order is set up that dictates when things move onto and off our terminal. After that point we are bystanders, apart from helping point a foreign haulier in the right direction.”


For Condor Ferries customers, there are no tachograph regulations in the Channel Islands, due to geographical restraints on the distances drivers are able to travel, which limits potential holdups after the crossing. To enable the drivers to arrive in the best condition, meals are included in the price, and they also benefit from a cabin berth – to help them arrive rested. “The driver can travel cross-channel overnight with Condor Ferries, helping to free-up working days,” says Champion-Smith. “Due to our regular sailings, drivers can also sail during the day from the UK and return following day, if load can be discharged on arrival in the Channel Islands.”


Coming at the story from another angle are the companies that deal with the ‘behind the scenes’ work; the processes that make the actual crossings happen, as smoothly as possible. The managing director of Southampton-based Convoi Exceptionnel, Tony Lovell, battled for 15 years as a UK and continental owner driver, so understands his clients’ needs and the barriers they often face. “I thought, at the time, it was very difficult to get help with all of the paperwork, let alone anything else, so I set up a company to help other hauliers who must be having the same trouble,” he explains.

Now with well over 30 years’ experience in abnormal loads, Convoi supplies UK notifications, European permits, UK and European escort car services, route surveys and ongoing support in all areas of abnormal load transportation to more than 500 customers. While, in the UK, abnormal load notification is relatively easy for the vast majority of AILs (Abnormal Indivisible Loads), the rules overseas vary greatly from country to country. In terms of paperwork required, timeframes for getting permits, legislation regarding trucks, trailers and escort vehicles, marker boards, etc, Convoi provides solutions.

International business accounts for around 75% of Convoi’s turnover. “It is vital that hauliers know what they are doing overseas as they will not get away with mistakes lightly. We understand the need for hauliers to have access to a continual update of the changing legislation regarding abnormal loads in Europe,” says Lovell. “Authorities on the continent have no hesitation in fining hauliers on the spot for even a minor infraction of their laws.”

Unlike the UK, where operators only have to wait two clear working days for permission to transport most abnormal loads, on the continent, lead times can be far greater. “This is because instead of the pragmatic “let’s get it done as efficiently as possible” attitude of the British police, the handlers of this work on the continent have paper oriented responsibilities and slow working methods,” believes Lovell. “Frequently many different departments within a country or area need to be notified using their own specific documentation. This is another huge contrast to the ‘one notification for all recipients’ approach in the UK. Convoi has developed close relations with foreign transport ministries over the past few decades ensuring a seamless process from start to completion.”

The work of Convoi doesn’t finish when the ship docks, however – there are issues such as private escorts to overcome. The key element here, says Lovell, is experience. A wide load is different from a long load. While lighter loads can move quite quickly, heavy haulage can be very slow indeed. When it comes to recruitment, Convoi “always favours people with knowledge. We employ ex-police traffic officers where possible”. Indeed the same is true of the firm’s notification process to police and local authorities; experience and knowledge is vital.

Convoi publishes the HTA Abnormal Load Notification Directory for those hauliers who to wish to notify their own abnormal load movements in the UK. The Directory is supplied in hard copy format and is fully maintained. A quarterly update subscription service is available. The Directory is also used by some police forces as a reference for contacts. A 10% discount is available to HTA members.