UWL Swire Shipping Stern

The fast Sun Chief Express, between South-east Asia and the US, launched last year by UWL with Swire Shipping, remains on expansion course.

Having added a call at  Busan this year, UWL broadened its US footprint to include Columbus and Cleveland last month and is looking at Minneapolis. In addition, management aims to double the existing frequency.

“We want to go weekly out of Vietnam,” said UWL president Duncan Wright. The company is the forwarding and NVOCC arm of Cleveland-based 3PL World Group.

Launched last April, the operation offers a 25-day transit from Vietnam to Seattle, bi-weekly from Haiphong via Ho Chi Minh City.

In addition to cargo from Vietnam, the eastbound service is fed from India, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia using fast feeder vessels. The run from Phnom Penh takes 48 hours to Ho Chi Minh City, where Swire’s vessels dock at the city port, averting slow barge moves in the Mekong Delta.

US-bound traffic is dominated by apparel and footwear, and electronics, but furniture volumes have also climbed, said Mr Wright. Westbound the service became the largest carrier of apple exports from the Pacific north-west to Vietnam last year, he added.

As a result, UWL has added an Alaska reefer service, with guaranteed availability in four cities in south-east Alaska: Ketchikan, Juneau, Petersburg, and Sitka. UWL has even appointed a director for refrigerated services, Peter Vigil.

The inbound Sun Chief Express service is used by some of the top US importers, mostly on long-term contracts – either one- or multi-year agreements, according to Mr Wright. He added: “Large shippers have an element of product where they want reliability. They won’t use us for the bulk of their product. We carry small volumes. We pull in 20-30 containers.”

He has noticed interest among shippers looking to reduce their reliance on airfreight, driven as much by cost as by sustainability, he said.

Beyond port-to-port transit times, Swire and UWL have focused on smoothing flows at the ports. At Seattle the ships have guaranteed berthing space. “We pay for late gate and for Saturday gate hours,” Mr Wright said.

In December UWL parent World Group acquired Pacific Cascade, an asset-light logistics provider based in Washington State with a portfolio that includes drayage, warehousing, transloading and fulfilment. World Group CEO Fred Hunger said the move was part of the “strategic vision to utilise the Pacific north=west as a transportation corridor” for its customers.

The intermodal element of the Sun Chief service initially covered container moves to Chicago, Memphis and Kansas City, as well as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal on the Canadian side. Since June it also serves Cleveland and Columbus.

“Our goal is to provide all Midwest businesses with advanced, sustainable supply chain strategies to maintain their competitive edge in the marketplace,” Mr Wright said. Transit times from Asia to the added destinations are between four and six days faster than other offerings, he claimed.

Further expansion is on the cards.

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