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Biocair transports critical PPE from China to South Africa

Customer: A global cancer research institute
Locations: China and South Africa
Challenge: Transport of high-value PPE by sea freight and road
Solution: Advanced customs clearance, 24/7 support and security escorts

Earlier in 2020 the World Health Organization predicted that 89 million medical masks, 76 million examination gloves, and 1.6 million pairs of goggles would be required globally, per month, in order for the global population to fight COVID-19.

Air cargo is often the most time efficient method of delivering critical products, including personal protective equipment (PPE). However, the global air freight capacity is at approximately 25 per cent lower than the levels registered for the same period in 2019. This is accentuated further for certain regions such as Africa.

The reduction in air freight capacity, coupled with increases in air freight rates of up to 500 per cent, has made sea freight a more viable alternative.


Africa has been heavily affected by the consequences of airline restrictions, with inter-regional travel inside the continent being particularly affected.

Biocair was approached by one of its customers to manage the sea freight logistics of several large intermodal containers, carrying medical grade face masks from Shanghai to Durban. In addition to the international transport, Biocair would also be responsible for the domestic transportation to Johannesburg, where the PPE would be offloaded, stored and distributed securely.

ocean freight

Security risks for transporting PPE

With hijacking of masks, gloves and ventilators a likely possibility, and tactics including blocking exports of medical supplies, it was absolutely critical for Biocair to have complete management of the supply chain from start to finish.

This meant liaising with the relevant authorities to produce the necessary documentation, coordinating transport and arranging security convoys. Any mistake in the planning process could have had disastrous consequences.


Biocair’s local team of logistics experts in South Africa were able to remotely track the location of the shipment along its journey from Shanghai to the port of Durban. This data, provided in real time, was then used to inform the relevant port authorities, including customs personnel, beforehand of the estimated arrival.

Port of Durban

Security escort required for domestic transport

Due to the high value of the materials, Biocair arranged for security escorts to accompany the materials along the journey from Durban to Johannesburg. Once the PPE arrived at its end destination, Biocair staff worked continuously throughout the night to coordinate the unloading and storing in secured facilities.

Speaking about the risk mitigation efforts Biocair undertook for this project, Len Lazarus, Africa Regional Director, comments that “with the rise of criminal activity looking to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to guarantee that the supply chain we created was safe, secure and compliant, given the high value of the materials being shipped.

Specific measures we undertook included implementing 24/7 working patterns to allow continuous monitoring and communication, training drivers on security risks, developing procedures in case of any incident and enabling GPS tracking to locate the shipments.”


Operations staff from Biocair’s Johannesburg office were in communication throughout the journey. As a result, all the relevant documentation was prepared for in advance, ensuring rapid customs clearance and swift onwards travel to the end destination in Johannesburg.

COVID-19 has shown that effective healthcare logistics management requires not only regulatory expertise and extensive planning, but also a proactive global network of logistics experts who can respond to last-minute changes.

Doctor in PPE and patient

The high security risk of the PPE, coupled with the rigorous logistical framework required for ocean freight transport, has meant that only those logistics experts like Biocair, with a thorough understanding of the global supply chain, are capable of delivering for the scientific community.

For further information about Biocair’s services, please contact your local Biocair office.