Time and perfect paperwork vital for danger goods

Sending shipments of any dangerous goods to Saudi Arabia can be tricky at the best of times. But air-freighting 200 tonnes of hazardous chemicals to the desert kingdom presents a whole new spectrum of potential pitfalls.

This was the scenario facing Puma Cargo, which has specialised in shipping goods to the wealthy Gulf State for the past quarter of a century. The chemicals, used in the cosmetics industry, were sent in three consignments, one of which was 130 tonnes – a huge enterprise in airfreight terms. 

The sheer size of the shipment presented a challenge in itself but the nature of the products involved added a range of additional complications.

“There were a lot of logistical issues,” says Puma’s sales manager Lynton Marsden, who has been with the company since the mid 1980s. “With Saudi Arabia if you’re sending dangerous goods there are quite a few hoops to jump through and it can be a lengthy paper-chase before you even book the freight.”

As well as all the normal detailed paperwork, when sending dangerous goods shipments, shippers have to obtain authorisation from the airline’s Saudi Arabian office prior to the airline accepting the booking. And for all exports to Saudi, Certificates of Origin are also necessary and these need to be authorised by the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce.

Then came the biggest hurdle - the complex security issues involved. All 607 drums had to be individually screened using sophisticated x-ray technology which can scan through metal. Since the airlines don’t possess such hi-tech equipment, this had to be undertaken at a private facility outside the airport approved by the Department for Transport.

Once the security certificate had been issued the shipments were then granted “known” status by the airline and became accepted for delivery to the airline.

“We have to be aware with Saudi Arabia that all the documentation is letter perfect,” adds Mr Marsden. “All the documents have to be completely consistent. The Saudis are very pernickety and if you get things wrong, it delays things and puts a spanner in the works.”

Mr Marsden also cautions exporters of dangerous goods to Saudi to factor in another key consideration – time.

“From the goods being available for collection, subject to the size of the shipment, I’d say you need to allow up to three weeks for delivery because it can take up to ten days for the authorisation documents to come back from the airline,” he adds. “And until you have that you can’t begin to book the shipment with the airline and organise the x-ray screening and delivery into the airline.”