AsstrA-Associated Traffic AG – Houston, Texas

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Interview with

Mr. Colin Bagwell
COO – Industrial Project Logistics

Colin Bagwell Portrait for PCW Interview

For starters, who are AsstrA?  Is the name an abbreviation?  Who is behind it, and in which countries are currently active?

AsstrA-Associated Traffic AG is a global logistics company, headquartered out of Zurich which is where our CEO is located. We are a global Company with a network of offices, and over 1500 employees. 

Our Company name is an abbreviation of the words: activity, stability, staff, transport, reputation and alliance. These are the principals on which our business is based. As mentioned, we have a global network of 43 owned offices in some 30 countries in Europe, CIS, Asia, and the United States. In November of this year, we will launch the opening of our latest office which will open in the United Arab Emirates to place the AsstrA flag firmly in the Middle East region.

Do you have experience in AsstrA concerning project and OOG cargoes, and if so, could you provide our readers with a few examples? 

Project Logistics is one of AsstrA’s main business units, and I am fortunate to be the COO, leading a team of highly skilled, experienced and motivated professionals. 

I will start from our latest project shipment which involved the transportation of a Wash Tower, from Spain to Poland. The single unit was 92m long with a gross weight of 827 tons. A special challenge: the type of heavy lift vessel that could be used was restricted. but with sufficient planning and effective flow of information between all involved parties, the shipment was executed smoothly and on time. The AsstrA team needed to discharge the cargo within the agreed time frame and avoided any delays. Despite worsening weather during the day, the operations commenced at 0900 hrs and concluded the same day at 1945 hrs. It was a unique project in many ways, and in doing it, AsstrA broke several internal records, including the category of the largest transport. Delivery of this capital equipment from origin to its destination demonstrated the professionalism and know-how of the AsstrA Industrial Project Logistics Team. The implementation was so impressive and spectacular that AsstrA Industrial Projects team won the Breakbulk “Waves of Cargo” video competition organized earlier this year.

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Another project that stays in my mind is the transportation of an entire manufacturing plant from the German city of Bischweier to Rivne in the Ukraine during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the plant’s dimensions and the 1,600 km transport route, the delivery took 4 months and involved over 1,000 shipments of full and oversized cargo. The range of services provided included both the organization and coordination of transport processes, lifting arrangements and customs documentation as well as the supervision of loading and unloading operations. The project’s main challenge was developing a transport scheme for such a complex assortment of oversized equipment and cargo. Due to the envelope size of several main items, there were restrictions on the movement of the trucks on the highway and on individual bridges. The goods were delivered under a multimodal scheme. In the first stage, 12 units with a width of 8.50 meters and a weight of 90 tons were transported from the place of loading to the nearest German port of Kehl on the Rhine River. The project was completed successfully with no incidents.

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You yourself, I believe, have a long story in international project logistics. Please tell our readers a little about your own career leading up to your current position in the US.

I started my career at a very young age when I joined the EPC MW Kellogg in London as a Trainee Traffic Coordinator. After several very enjoyable years, I moved to another EPC before moving over to a pioneering Project Freight Forwarder, namely Hudson Freight Services with whom I worked for in the UK, Abu Dhabi and Tokyo before returning to the UK. I moved back to the EPC side of the industry where I worked for Brown & Root in London and worked on the Great Man-Made River Project in Libya.

I moved to Italy after B&R to work for an Italian engineering company then to Kuwait with the same company. After Kuwait, I moved to Norway with B&R and an Offshore project for Elf Petroleum where I managed the Shipping and Expediting Team.

After 2 years in Norway and successful completion of the project, I returned to the UK and took up a position with TGP, so, in fact, I returned to project forwarding. A happy and rewarding experience with TGP lead me eventually to start the UK operation for TransOceanic, a US based Project Forwarder where we started a grass roots operation and eventually became a strong player in the industry both in the UK and at a global level.

I met my wife at TransOceanic and moved to Houston where I now live with my wife and children and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have been very fortunate in my career to meet many interesting people in the wonderful industry in which we work, and I have traveled to many interesting places and countries around the world (not as many as you Bo!). 

AsstrA is now my family and I am excited to be part of an ambitious group who have a clear vision for future growth.

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What makes AsstrA stand out in your view, I mean there are a lot of project freight forwarders out there? 

As mentioned previously, AsstrA has created a family type work environment and being a privately-held company, the advantages of this ownership speaks volumes, including quick decision making process and a vision for the future. Within AsstrA Industrial Projects, we are building a solid unit formed of truly remarkable professionals all of whom share the same objectives, successes, and for us to deliver on a commitment to our customers. Our Projects Team at AsstrA are a very close-knit unit and share a vast knowledge in their expertise in handling complex project and transportation operations, global knowledge and awareness, and a commitment to customer satisfaction and innovative solutions.

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What is your take on the fact that some shipowners (e.g. Maersk) wish to obliterate the role of the independent freight forwarder and do “ALL the Way” as their slogan goes? Will they be successful or have you also stopped booking with them as others have?

A very interesting question, thank you.  As it relates to Maersk specifically, they are a strong and powerful company, so with respect to their adventure into turnkey project logistics, only time will tell. This type of diversification from a company’s core business activities has been tried in the past. Some have been successful; some not so successful. As I say, time will tell.

Will we as AsstrA stop booking with Maersk? The simple answer is no. It would be naive of me to say “yes, no more bookings for Maersk”. The reality is when offering a service to our customers, we must show impartiality, but of course, we must also be conscious and aware of our competition.  It is worth mentioning that amongst several of the core Team at AsstrA Industrial Projects, we probably have in excess of some 300 + years plus of dedicated experience in global Project Logistics. This type of knowledge and experience cannot be acquired or gained overnight.

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Corona was great for many in logistics, and rates both for owners and forwarders went through the roof. How is the situation now?

The impact of Covid-19 with the transportation, logistics and shipping industries was severe and of course a concern, especially if, as a freight forwarder in the projects industry, you held a contract with fixed and firm rates because the knock-on effect on the freight rates was significant. While the initial phase of the pandemic led to disruptions and increased rates, the situation has gradually stabilized or in some regards been turned on its head because the container rates have reduced significantly. During Covid, a 40’ ex Asia to Europe was approx. US$ 14,500. Now, after a short time frame, the cost is approx. US$ 2,000. One can’t help but feel some people benefitted, but it certainly wasn’t the project freight forwarders or their clients.

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However, it is important to note that the logistics industry is dynamic, and various factors can influence rates and market conditions.

I would also add and refer to sea freight rates which, as mentioned, increased  significantly during the COVID-19 period‚ climbing to a 12-year high amid soaring global demand and supply chain delays. Thus‚ the maximum value of the Freightos Global Container Freight Index reached $10-11 thousand for a 40-foot container in the autumn of 2021‚ having increased more than 7 times from its level at the beginning of 2020. From climbing to historical highs during the global pandemic‚ ocean freight rates have fallen away since the summer of 2022. The Freightos Baltic Global index continues to decline: it decreased 23% month on month in September to $1,177/FEU, and this is more than a 90% decrease compared to the same period last year. We see that the market has returned to its pre-pandemic state.

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Depending on the origin of a certain project, where would the entry point be for speaking to AsstrA? Are you a member of any networks or do you have a system in place already with owned offices and partners?

As previously mentioned, AsstrA has an impressive global footprint of owned offices which offers us the ability to retain and control business in-house. In locations and geographical spots where we do not have a representative office, AsstrA has a well developed network of like-minded agents and partners with whom we collaborate and reciprocate business leads, opportunities and operations. In November, we are opening in the UAE. Further we have representatives in China, Korea, Turkey, UK, Azerbaijan, Germany, Africa and CIS countries. We are also a member of BIFA, IATA, TAPA and FIATA association plus the WCA Network (but the latter is for our AsstrA Forwarding Group).

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Looking into the 2024 crystal ball, what do you see?

As we move towards 2024 and beyond, the logistics industry is set to experience further evolution and transformation. Thanks to technological advancements and new trends, the logistics industry has undergone rapid changes in the past few years. However, the pace of change shows no sign of slowing down. AsstrA will continue to adapt and innovate to meet the changing needs of their clients and the industry as a whole.

We must place serious devotion and attention to “green” transportation solutions and techniques. This is essential, and an industry-wide effort must be adopted to ensure the safety of the planet.

As far as the Project industry is concerned, trends will change, the cycle will continue, but the facilities which are built will focus more and more on power, energy, solar, nuclear plants.

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How would it be best for our readers to get in touch with you?

The best way to reach me is via one of the following:
Email: colin.bagwell@asstra.com
Website: www.asstra.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/asstra-ag

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