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Chemicals, oilfield driving growth for M&S Logistics US operations

BIG isn’t everything. Being a smaller player in an industry can be a good thing, according to the management team at M&S Logistics Ltd.

The tank container operator sees its more modest size as a distinct advantage that has helped it become an important player in the global logistics industry providing intermodal solutions to the international marketplace. The company is ideally positioned to provide personalized service to satisfy specific transport and storage needs.

“Our strengths include a strong commitment to each and every one of our customers,” says Wim Roldaan, president of Americas for M&S Logistics. “As a privately owned, smaller tank container operator, we can make quicker decisions. We can respond rapidly to changing customer needs. When we commit to a customer, we’ll do whatever it takes to meet his needs.”

That has been the operating philosophy since M&S Logistics was founded in South Africa in 1996. Today, company is headquartered in Sandbach, Cheshire, United Kingdom, but it has offices worldwide. Principal operating areas are Europe, The Americas, Caspian Region, India, Middle East, Africa, and key markets in Asia.

M&S logistics is part of the privately owned Multistar group that was started in 1979 by David Jenkins, who helped pioneer the stainless steel tank container industry in South Africa. Sister companies include Multistar Container Transport (Pty) Ltd, Multistar Container Transport Ltd (UK), Multistar Leasing Ltd (UK), and Multistar Tank Leasing Company LLC (US).

Oilfield and chemicals

M&S Logistics has built a strong focus on oilfield operations and is expanding its chemical industry activity. “We’ve grown with these sectors, and we believe they will continue to drive our growth,” Roldaan says. “We serve oil and gas companies in some of the most challenging areas of the world—such as West Africa, the Black Sea region, and Venezuela. We move a lot of chemicals for drilling and production.”

Chemical shipments account for 180 tank container loads a month from the United States, a volume that is expected to reach 300 tanks a month in 2015. M&S Logistics moves 450 loads of chemicals a month in tank containers from Europe, and that is projected to top 700 loads a month in 2015.

The key reason for the projected growth in US chemical shipments is the fact that numerous chemical plant expansions along the Gulf Coast will be coming online between now and 2016. In addition, the Panama Canal expansion will be finished in early 2016.

The company’s tank container fleet has grown steadily and now stands at 4,000 20-ft tanks. “We’ve experienced fast growth since 2011, and our target is to have 7,000 tanks in service by the end of 2016,” Roldaan says.

Keeping busy

Fleet utilization is at 75%, and M&S Logistics achieves an average of 4.5 turns per year per tank container. “We work hard to keep our tank containers busy,” he says.

That includes maintaining a close watch over the fleet. All container bookings in and out of the United States are directed from the M&S Logistics office in Pearland, a suburb of Houston, Texas. The container operator arranges the loading of each tank container, delivery, and return to port.

“We also arrange for most of the transportation and depot services,” Roldaan says. “In some parts of the world where we don’t have our own offices, we do rely on agents to handle some of the details, but we still closely monitor everything.

“We use multiple drayage and depot providers for flexibility and to ensure timely delivery of shipments. Currently, we are using 14 third-party providers across the eastern half of the United States, on the West Coast, and in Toronto (Ontario) and Montreal (Quebec), Canada. We are looking at Canadian locations in Alberta and British Columbia.”

Container management

Software developed in-house monitors all aspects of the fleet operation, including shipment control, demurrage, and routing. The system provides daily updates on the location and status of every tank container in the fleet. It also offers an automated price quotation process and cost profiles.

All payments and receivables are handled through the UK headquarters office. Tank container purchases and specifications also are managed out of the UK office.

Welfit Oddy, a South African manufacturer, is the primary supplier of tank containers in the fleet. However, Chinese manufacturer CIMC is under contract to remanufacture older M&S Logistics tank containers at a rate of 20-25 a month. CIMC is replacing cladding, insulation, and frames on the tank containers.

Stainless steel T11 tank containers comprise much of the M&S Logistics fleet. The company also operates T20/T22 tanks for specialized products and tanks dedicated to foodgrade products. Capacities range from 21,000 liters (5,547 gallons) to 26,000 liters (6,868 gallons). The 26,000-liter tanks are the newest additions to the fleet and are specified with surge-control baffles.

All of the tank containers have full steel frames and are insulated and wrapped with fiberglass-reinforced plastic cladding. Discharge outlets and manways are supplied by Fort Vale and Perolo. New units and rebuilt tank containers have expanded metal walkways on top with pop-up fall protection side rails.

Tank containers are maintained to the most stringent international standards in accordance with the International Tank container Organization Acceptable Container Condition manual. Requirements are regularly updated.     ♦

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