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Voetspore Diary: Ship it!

31 May 2016

We’ve been doing Voetspore expeditions for 16 years on the African continent. There are many challenges – adverse weather conditions, language barriers and corrupt officials at border crossings and checkpoints, to name but a few. Yet few challenges are as real as getting the vehicles to the departure point or getting them back.

Tans-continental journeys or an expedition on the island of Madagascar implies shipping your vehicles to and/or from the destination. That’s if you don’t have time to drive the vehicles there and back, or have a friend with a few months to spare who could take the vehicles to the departure point, or collect them once you’ve finished the journey. Over the years, we’ve always chosen the shipping option.

The first time I loaded Voetspore vehicles into a container, it was at the end of some dramatic events. We were in Egypt, but we were there ‘illegally’ . To enter Egypt with your vehicles, you need to have a valid, Egyptian-compatible, Carnet de Passages en Douane. This is a temporary import/export permit, enabling you to cross with your vehicle from one country to another.

In Egypt, it’s a little different. The Carnet is the same, but to be valid in Egypt, one has to deposit 200% of the value of your vehicle at the Automobile Association where the Carnet was obtained.I had three Nissan Patrols. Without being derogatory to the brand, I may have convinced the authorities that the vehicles were worth R250 000 each. Total value: R750 000. Deposit needed for the Carnet: R1.5-million.

This deposit is refunded once the vehicles have returned to the country of origin. Yet, for some period of time, I would have been out of pocket to the value of R1.5-million. Needless to say, this does not fall within a Voetspore budget.

I tried a different approach. I befriended Mr Hammam, customs official at the port of Aswan High Dam. When my first vehicle eventually arrived with a barge from Wadi Halfa, I was chatting to Mr Hammam about everything and anything with the effect he never flipped the yellow Carnet de Passages en Douane document over to see that on the back it explicitly states: NOT EGYPT.

Mr Hammam stamped my Carnet and other documents and I was soon driving in Egypt, complete with Egyptian number plates on my Patrol. Three days later, my other vehicles arrived. This time Mr Hammam had called in sick and his thoroughly effective assistant was taking care of the administrative tasks. When I offered the yellow Carnet, first thing he did was turn it over, pointing to the ‘NOT EGYPT’ at the bottom of the page.

We were stuck. The Egyptian number plate was removed from my Patrol. The only options left were to either get the R1.5-million, or to drive back. The last option was not really a feasible one. We did not have multiple entry visas for Sudan. A new application would have to be completed and one of the team members had a full passport. Apart from that, the guys were at the end of a three-month expedition. They just wanted to go home.

I put Rey van Rensburg, Gideon Swart and Lourens Human on the plane. My son Streicher and I remained behind to see what we could do. I was worried that our vehicles would succumb to the same fate as a green Land Rover Discovery with a GP registration number that was abandoned by its owner at the Aswan High Dam customs office. (This was in 2005. On my last visit to Egypt in 2011, the Landy was still in the parking lot.) I spoke to the shipping line that was to be responsible for the transport of our vehicles. Eventually they came up with a plan – ship the vehicles from Aswan.

Two container lorries were sent to the customs office from Alexandria. It is a journey of a little more than 1 000km. In Aswan, we then loaded the vehicles and sealed the containers. They drove to the Mediterranean port city from where the vehicles were shipped to South Africa. Then Streicher and I could fly back home. The Gansbaai to Gabon expedition posed different challenges. This time all the paperwork was in order. There was just one snag – Gabon’s only port is situated on an island. To get the vehicles to Port Gentil, first we had to ferry them to the island port. This meant shipping them twice.

Casablanca to the Cape was different, too. This time we decided to drive home instead of leaving from South Africa. Our departure point was Casablanca in Morocco. We had to ship the vehicles to North Africa, fly there, get the Cruisers and drive to South Africa. The problem is that shipping lines work on an estimated schedule.

Container ships leave a port once they are fully loaded. If there is a delay, departure is postponed. No container vessel leaves with half a load. These ships then go to container hubs like Singapore or the Canary Island where the ships are offloaded and the different containers redirected to their destination. In our case, there were no ships sailing from the Canary Island to Casablanca. The vehicles first had to go to Barcelona, and then loaded onto yet another ship, bound for Morocco.

All these transfers implied delays. When the vehicles eventually arrived in Casablanca, it was three weeks after their estimated time of arrival. We once used a different way of transporting the vehicles. We airfreighted them. On the Equator expedition we took the three Amaroks to OR Tambo Freight Division. They were weighed, loaded into the belly of a Jumbo and flown to Nairobi. Two days later, we set off. This was the easy way to do it. This was also, to date, the most expensive way.

But then came Madagascar. Madagascar is just around the corner from South Africa. This Indian Ocean island is three-and-a-half hours flying from South Africa and three days sailing from the port of Durban. To get the vehicles to and from Madagascar, I decided to try a new option the ro-ro route. This is ‘roll-on, roll-off’. No vehicles in containers. No delayed departure dates and late arrivals. The ro-ro ship runs like a bus: on time.

We had a specific date of departure and date of arrival. We could be precise in our planning. But all benefits come at a cost. Getting the vehicles to and from Madagascar was by far the most expensive exercise we’ve ever had in the transport of our vehicles.

Text: Johan Badenhorst


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