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A long day in Ploce

By Maj. Marie Richter
First published in
SFOR Informer#122, September 19, 2001

At first light in Ploce the sound of a horn announced the arrival of a cargo ship. Everyone was summoned to the port to begin a very long day, loading the ship and ensuring everything was battened down ready for it to continue on its journey.

Ploce - Sept. 3 was the scheduled day for the German cargo ship to arrive to take vehicles and empty containers back to Germany as part of the ongoing logistical flow of supplies to and from the operational theatre. In a previous meeting of French, Italian and German chiefs, the responsibilities and orders had been finalised, so that on the day everyone knew exactly what needed to be done and in what order it needed to happen. On the day most people wore overalls. The colour of the hard hats denoted the chiefs and workers from the observers, so that the commands were taken from the right person. The day would have to run like clockwork in order to load the 30 containers, 30 vehicles and 19 trailers within the allotted time. A final meeting briefed all the chiefs on the order of the loading and the safety procedures for the day.
The vehicles had been brought from Rajlovac over the previous weeks and stored ready to load; the containers had been put in a storage area ready to bring forward to the dockside when needed. Before any loading could start the ship had to be prepared. The deck plates of the upper and middle decks had to be lifted individually by crane. Each piece weighing 25 tonnes was carefully lifted and stacked so that the lower deck could be filled first. This was the responsibility of the ship's own crew who knew exactly where each piece should go. Everyone else stood clear.
German responsibility
Maj. Jorg Botta from the German contingent briefed his team, and the transit platoon ensured each vehicle was logged and checked before loading. As soon as the stern door was open and the ramp laid to the dockside, the German disinfectant team built a platform of mats soaked in strong disinfectant. A team of soldiers wearing protective clothing and respirators were armed with spray guns ready to douse all the vehicle wheels before they entered the cargo holding area. Once they were set up, the ambulances, trucks, trailers, and minibuses were driven over the mats, sprayed, and carefully guided inside the ship. They were slowly driven down an internal ramp into the lower deck of the ship; space was tight with only a few centimetres between vehicles so careful precise driving was essential. Meanwhile, more vehicles were brought alongside the ship to be loaded mid ship by crane. Careful positioning of the vehicles in their correct order was necessary to ensure a smooth lift into the ship.
French in overall control
The French team from the BATALAT (Bataillon de l'aviation légère de l'armée de terre, Army Aviation Battalion) formed the port task platoon, and were co-ordinating the multi-national operation. It was their responsibility to guide the vehicles onboard and place in position to fill the space to maximum capacity. They then lashed each vehicle down to prevent any damage to the cargo. The soldiers clambered over and under vehicles to reach all of them taking with them the chains they required. Once secure, the metal middle deck pieces were then replaced by crane and it was on to the next phase.
The French chief working alongside the Germans ensured that each vehicle to be lifted onboard was strapped securely. As the crane took the weight, the load was guided by soldiers with ropes until it cleared the side of the ship. It was then up to the crane operator to place the vehicles safely inside. Everyone stood clear as one after another the trucks and trailers disappeared into the hull of the ship.
The Italians from the Reparto Logistico Contingenza (RELOCO), the logistic branch of the Italian contingent concentrated on the containers. Under the supervision of Capt. Luisi, the men would need all their concentration and driving skills for an efficient operation. He spoke of the operation, "This is new for us, it is the first time we have seen this kind of ship. The process is slower due to the design of the ship so we have to work longer hours in order for the ship to be loaded on time." Their responsibility was to load the containers in the storage area onto the toploaders trucks, and deliver them to the dockside. Although the trucks are capable of loading the containers from the ground independently, this time they used a container- lifting vehicle to ensure speedy flow of the containers to the docks. The drivers went to and from one area to the next to keep the supply of containers needed at the dockside. At all times, radio contact was maintained between the different teams. There the forklift trucks placed them on the ground in just the right place for the crane. As nightfall beckoned, the trucks continued, determined to finish before the day was out. Eventually the final container was loaded; the whole cargo checked by the Supercargo (cargo supervisor) and the final all clear given for the storage and safety. The whole team had worked hard to maximum efficiency, which meant a lesser bill for the German ship, which was charged for by the hour for use of the docks. The ship sailed away into the night, heading for Crete, its last port of call before returning to Germany. The soldiers packed up and returned for a special Italian late night supper of pasta and a barbecue, tired but pleased with a very long day's work.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: France, Germany, Italy
SFOR at Work