Friday, 25 July 2014

On Food Security

"Its dependence upon the outer worlds for food and, indeed, for all necessities of life, made Trantor increasingly vulnerable to conquest by siege. In the last millennium of the Empire, the monotonously numerous revolts made Emperor after Emperor conscious of this, and Imperial policy became little more than the protection of Trantor's delicate jugular vein." (Foundation, Isaac Asimov)
Most of our food is imported. Like the planet Trantor in Isaac Asimov's science fiction story, "Foundation", it is very much our jugular vein, and we depend on good freight links, otherwise there can rapidly be shortages. Gone are the halcyon days when Jersey kept 3 weeks supply of frozen and tinned food in Warehouses. In any case, the changing pattern of consumption means that most food that is imported and eaten is on the "cooling" shelves, not frozen or tinned. It needs to be sold within a week at most, or it is out of sell by date.
In these circumstances, where food is both perishable within a short time, and most food consumed is imported, it seems strange that no definite contingency plans have been put in place.
My correspondent Adam Gardiner has a few comments about the Condor and food security. I have noticed before how bad weather, such as we had a Christmas, can certainly deplete the smaller stores like M&S quite rapidly.
On Food Security and Condor by Adam Gardiner.
I learned last Saturday that Jersey is facing a food shortage. With Condor Clipper being damaged last week, hundreds of tonnes of food destined for our major supermarkets has been on the dockside at Portsmouth over the weekend. Condor have not chartered an alternative nor it seems entered into agreement with the only other freight company operating into Jersey, CIShipping.
In fact, the supermarkets' last Thursday shipment, which would have carried them through the weekend, did not arrive nor did it arrive until past the weekend. The additional problem is that 80% of it is perishable. While it is being held in refrigerated containers, it is nonetheless the case that by the time it arrives almost half will be out of date or within 24 hours of being so. The only good news in that is we may expect a 'reduce sale' at  some stores!
Jersey again has failed to make a contingency or have an agreement with Condor to move goods into the island 'within reasonable time' in such circumstances. It is often the case that a boat may not sail due to weather conditions, but delays are rarely more than 12 - 24 hours.
In this instance the boat went out of service on Thursday - is still out of service and it is the only operating vessel that is clearly capable of transporting the full daily consignments into the islands. 
It proves how utterly reliant we are on Condor - who in reality have a monopoly and can treat us how they like when it suits them. Their decision not to charter or transfer their services has a lot to do with cost and protection of their monopoly. To have chartered a boat/operator would no doubt have provided the potential of allowing a competitor onto the route - or suggesting room for two operators. And this is the company we have signed up with for a 10 year deal!
The Islands need to discuss a contingency for such failures and place upon Condor responsibilities for finding alternative means to ship goods in/out of the islands should any of their vessels develop a fault that prevents them sailing. What is the boat itself had sunk? Should we be forced to face indefinite delays and throw ourselves to the mercy of a single company? Daresay too that if that happened (and could) Condor would be seeking States assistance in chartering an alternative boat - blackmail?
Whatever the economic arguments put up by Condor (which I don't buy anyway) we need both a contingency and also to open up the route to competition.
One boat runs aground and the result is empty shelves at our food stores. That is not at all good at all - and certainly not acceptable.
CI Shipping's involvement, taking some of the spare capacity, is a good opportunity to demonstrate there is room for two operators - they will come out of this well.
The point is that it is not Condor who have approached CIShipping or hold any agreement with them. This is being arranged between the freight forwarders and CIShipping.
The clue there is in the comment that Condor could not find a suitable vessel.when their only freight competitor actually has just the right boat! And to say 'at such short notice' rather suggests Condor do not keep an update on vessels available to them in such circumstances.
I cannot speak for shipping, but airlines operate with contingencies in place. Code share is in particular designed to maximise flight loads and also to ensure alternative aircraft are available if one of their liveried fleet goes out of service.
Flybe have arrangements with several other operators - Air France being its main partner, but it also has arrangements with FinnAir, KLM and even British Airways depending on routes. I would think that very similar applies to shipping and particularly those holding contracts on licensed routes.
But it doesn't seem to be in place with Condor, despite signing a new agreement between them and Jersey.


Condor have issued a press release

"Following a worldwide search, the company has secured a charter freight vessel to continue to keep the Islands connected and supplied while Clipper is in dry dock until 26 August. The vessel will operate on the route between Portsmouth and Guernsey, allowing Commodore Goodwill to be primarily focused on servicing Jersey, also calling at Guernsey as required. The plan is for 'MN Toucan', a ro-ro cargo ship, to begin by collecting empty trailers in Guernsey on Tuesday morning (29 July), before returning to Portsmouth that evening to collect full trailers for the Island."

This is clever wording. Condor have NOT actually chartered a vessel (although their cleverly worded press release suggests otherwise) but have made arrangements with a French Company to handle its containers Portsmouth/Guernsey as part of its general cargo.

At present the MN Toucan is en route from St. Petersburg to Le Havre and approximately 80km northwest of Esbjerg (Denmark). It's current speed is just 10knots and is not expected to dock in Le Havre until the early hours of 26 July and from there would appear to be travelling on to its home port of Brest (Source: before uplifting empty containers from Guernsey - but the press release does not give any indication of the frequency of service it will be providing thereafter. Since not a direct charter I suspect it could be rather spasmodic.

The clever wording? " ..the company has secured a charter freight vessel " - which is not the same as chartered a freight vessel.

Still, on the bright side of things they have at least done something.

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