It is not known if the transport company Sovereign Speed has anything to do with Mao Tse-Tung, the former Chinese Communist Party leader and Dictator, especially since Sovereign was founded 22 years after Mao’s death. Nevertheless, the Hamburg, Germany-based express and cargo handling firm acts according to Mao's motto: “assume the worst and do the utmost to prevent harm.” In this case, the worst in terms of Brexit and the utmost to keep supply chains to and from the UK running as customer friendly as possible after 01JAN21.
Not an easy mission, since it remains unclear if London and Brussels will consent a trade agreement at the last minute, including transportation rules and customs issues. However, even in case of a hard Brexit, “we are well prepared to serve our customers with superb product quality,” assures Martin Araman, co-owner of Sovereign Speed and Managing Director.
Good preparation is half the battle
The UK is Sovereign’s largest market, next to Germany. Every day, except Sundays, it operates seven 40-ton trucks from its hubs in Cologne, Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, to the UK and back, adding to 14 daily Channel crossings either via Eurotunnel or by ferryboat, depending on traffic situations. These are constantly monitored by experts based in a London control tower who can instruct truck drivers to take the tunnel or rather the ferryboat to cross the Channel up to one hour before a vehicle arrives in Dover / Felixstowe or Calais, respectively. “This cannot prevent truck jams at borders in Brexit times, but substantially eases the situation for our drivers,” says Mr. Araman.
3,000 tons each month
To prevent chaos, but be best prepared for B-Day instead, Sovereign is considering entering into an agreement with rail company Eurostar, this way securing transport capacity. “We are basically interested and in negotiations, but no deal has been inked to this point in time,” MD Araman states.
Touching on the current situation again, he says that the UK services are complemented by 5 daily Sprinters supplying express goods both ways. The vehicles can accommodate up to 1.1 tons each. This all adds up to “3,000 tons in average that are moved both ways from continental Europe to the UK each month at an average 60% / 40% ratio,” Hendrik Bender, Sovereign’s Head of Group Business Development & Marketing, explains.
Sovereign has become freighter operator
However, he also confesses that his company will fall short of the guaranteed 24h delivery services between continental Europe and the UK once Brexit comes. Instead, he speaks of the 48 or even 72 hours that the big trucks will need as of 01JAN21, either way. “Particularly in the case of a no deal, we expect major jams on both sides of the Channel,” Mr. Araman forecasts. Although, in the same breath, he delivers good news: Since last year, Sovereign Speed owns and operates 2 Dornier 228-200 and 2 Cessna 208 freighters that are utilized at night to transport express goods such as automotive parts, tools or instruments from continental Europe to Birmingham or Coventry, but also to Oslo, Brussels, and Helsinki. “This gives us the utmost flexibility and enables rapid deliveries of urgent consignments, particularly to the UK, thus overcoming the Brexit barriers, elegantly and swiftly,” Sovereign Group CEO Frank Liebelt maintains.
The freighters were added to his company’s assets in December 2019 through the acquisition of Businesswings, a boutique carrier based in Kassel, located 200 km northeast of Frankfurt. They can uplift up to 8 Europallets or 2 tons, respectively.
Easy to access and use customs tool
Further to this, Sovereign reports the introduction of a digital “Easy-Import” dubbed customs tool allowing shippers or forwarders a fully automated customs clearance (www.easy-import.com). “All shipment data is transferred to customs authorities via a Dakosy developed interface,” says Mr Araman, adding that this is done at extremely competitive costs, no matter how many items belong to one consignment. That said, he summarizes: “our Easy-Import tool is another very useful component in our Brexit strategy to keep the supply chain flowing as best as we can.”
Knowledge is power
This also applies to the academy that Sovereign operates to prepare its own employees, and from now on also customers, for all Brexit eventualities. Issues standing high on the agenda are upcoming changes in documentation, how transports of dangerous goods might be affected by new customs barriers, which papers are required to prevent shipments from getting stuck at border, and similar practical issues requiring preparation and know-how. “We have already trained all employees at our cross-docking stations, i.e. Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, or Cologne, as well as Sovereign's branches in the UK, to avoid unpleasant surprises,” Mr. Araman explains.
Founded in Hamburg in 1998, the forwarding and handling agent currently operates a total of 17 stations throughout Europe and employs around 750 people. After the economic slump in March and the months after, business is noticeably picking up again, CEO Frank Liebelt says. Provided the current trend continues, 2020 will be a difficult year but not a phase that will have jeopardized the company's ongoing growth strategy.
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