This time last year European Abnormal Freight Ltd (EAF) was asked in April 2011 to help move the 117 tonne, 4 metre square granite Tsunami Memorial from France to London. As freight forwarding projects go it was the biggest transportation of a single piece of stone in the UK or France since the building of Stonehenge and the tale of how the giant piece came to arrive at the Natural History Museums gardens is worth telling.

Transports Courcelle in France were granted the haulage contract whilst EAF was appointed the UK Transport Project Manager whose management role was to provide full route planning with owner Marc Wodehouse taking personal control. The UK Highways Agency had stipulated that, once the convoy arrived by ferry from Cherbourg into Poole, it would have to utilise a coastal barge from Poole to London. EAF successfully lobbied all the relevant parties and obtained a special permission “BE16 Dispensation” to transport the load entirely by road. This alone saved the project more than £60k in barge and extra crane costs.

The project was mainly funded by a £500,000 grant from the Department for Sport, Media & Culture and the unveiling of the memorial was scheduled for the 5th July opening by HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.EAF successfully addressed ground strengthening and weight issues with London Underground and re-scheduling of long term works on Cromwell Road by British Gas. Apart from Prince Charles’s diary there was an extensive summer and autumn programme of “trial” road closures, by the London Olympic committee which could affect the delivery programme.

The load had to arrive on the weekend of the 28th June 2011 and failure to meet this deadline would put the project back to May 2013. Three weeks before the ceremony, serious loading issues in Castres, France had delayed the scheduled start date from the 4th to the 15th of June. The Transit time in France alone was 11 days and to exacerbate the situation there was now a public holiday in the middle of the revised schedule. Courcelle also confirmed that the new timescale meant it was impossible to meet the arrival date in the UK of the 28th June because French Law forbids “Convoi Exceptionnel” transport taking place over on weekends.

With the exception of humanitarian loads, the French government have never given dispensation to drive abnormal loads on weekends. As far as all parties were concerned, the project was on the verge of collapse. EAF stepped in and over five very challenging days corresponded with the Department for Sport, Media & Culture, the French Embassy in London, five prefectures, the British Embassy in Paris and, ultimately, the French Ministry of Culture & Media.

At 4pm on the afternoon of the 14th June (one hour before close of play), as a result of a telephone conversation with the Minister of Culture & Media for France, Monsieur Frédéric Mitterrand, and his direct intervention, EAF obtained the first ever dispensation for a “Super Heavy” Load to travel on French roads on a weekend, thus maintaining the original schedule.

Mike Holland, Chairman of the Tsunami Memorial Project, commented:

“EAF’s Marc Wodehouse was absolutely key to the successful delivery of the Memorial, he became part of us rather than just an external supplier. Whenever we faltered he found a solution, failure was never an option and Marc’s positive attitude became the standard we came to demand from everyone. I am deeply grateful and indebted to Marc for his enthusiasm, total dedication and great humour no matter how difficult the challenge. We would not have succeeded without him.”