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It is a simple and well-known fact that unit costs can be reduced significantly if capacity is filled on the out-bound and return legs of a shipping journey.

This has long been a challenge in South Africa's trade with China. For many years, the standard 40ft containers that arrived fully charged with manufactured goods at South African ports would often be returned empty.

Sail spotted this opportunity to transport its chrome ore in containersin containers that otherwise would have returned to China empty.. This was easier said than done. Tipping a 40ft container to discharge bulk ore could and did break the backs and lead to the collapse of the container being discharged. That was a drawback that did not affect 20ft containers, but very few of these half-sized units were being used between China and South Africa.

The solution was stunning in its simplicity – Sail designed a 40ft loading platform that supported the middle of the container being tilted to discharge ore and installed these platforms at major Chinese ports.

Financing exports

Sail’s advantages have not stopped with the physical aspects of discharge. Chrome exporters who had no Chinese financial facilities, preferred to be paid in US Dollars through bills of lading at South African ports. The buyer, understandably, was reluctant to pay full price for a product that might degrade while on its sea passage and preferred to settle the amount due in RMB (Yuan Renminbi) transactions based on Chinese port holding certificates after the delivery quality had been agreed.