The ship is designed for those who work on board, and the general approach is that everyone helps out. This makes for good health and safety on BRP Shipping’s bunker ship, Fox Sunrise, even though there is a two-watch system and stress levels are high at times.
Darkness has fallen over the port of Trelleborg. A few dazzling white seagulls glide in the black night sky; drizzle is falling slowly. Able body seaman Jimmy Åfeldt heads toward the deckhouse to prepare for bunkering. He makes a note of the delivery on the white-board: ECA 140 cubic metres, and takes out some sample bottles.
”We take samples of the oil while we are pumping it – the customer gets two bottles and we keep two. If there are any discussions afterwards, we must be able to prove that we delivered the product they ordered,” he says.
Fox Sunrise backs up alongside the German ship Stena Sassnitz. The chief mate, Henrik Benderius, comes onto the deck and things move fast as they secure the mooring ropes fore and aft.
”There are only two of us out here when we’re bunkering, and it’s important you both know what has to be done,” says Henrik as he controls the stern capstan. ”There’s no time to show people the ropes for a long time, so it’s difficult when there are new hands on the job.”
Jimmy lifts the 50 kilogram hose connector over the railing, which is taken in the bunker hatch of the ferry by his German colleagues. Once all the paperwork is completed and signed he gives the go-ahead on the radio to Henrik, who has gone back to the loading computer on the bridge. The thick hose that winds across the deck and railings expands as the fuel begins to flow and the meter starts ticking. The next hour or so is mostly spent keeping an eye on the pumping process before the pace of work speeds up again.
”This is probably one of the best ships I’ve worked on,” says Jimmy when asked if he likes his job here. ”It has a good crew, and the ship is quite easy to work on – you can tell they put some thought into it when it was built.”
There are several others in the seven-man crew, as well as the student officer, who agree with that. Jonas Kristensson is in his tenth year as an able body seaman, the last three at BRP. At first he had only planned to work as a seaman for a couple of years, and then study to be an officer. But the plan changed, he explained as we sailed through the busy Öresund waters early in the day.
”As long I’m enjoying my work, I don’t feel there is any reason to go on studying. When we were sailing a lot on the North Sea, with bad weather and no cover, I was really tired of it, but this route is much better,” he says.
”The ship’s hull is galvanized so there hasn’t been much need for chipping rust,” he continues. ”It is only in recent years that we’ve used the needle guns a bit more often.” There is virtually no external pipework on the weather deck, most of it being concealed in the double deck. All ropes are on winches, and on the starboard side of the weather deck there is a thick rubber mat to reduce the risk of damage and wear. It is now eleven years since the ship was built, however; the mat has done its job and is partly worn away. As well as the ship being relatively easy to work on, Jonas also appreciates the flat organisation on board.
Unmanned engine room
”There is little hierarchy on this ship. Of course we know each other’s responsibilities and we respect each other’s professional roles, but even the chief mate gets out and does the painting just like everyone else,” he says.
We cross the deck to the storeroom under the forecastle. Protective equipment is kept here, as well as materials for cleaning up oil in the event of a spill. On the other side of the bulkhead there is a paint store with cans of paint and brushes in a row.
”We have two-component paint for all outdoor jobs, but we use protective equipment and most of the mixing is done here on the deck. We usually paint in fine weather, of course, and then you might as well do the mixing out outside, but there is ventilation inside too.”
Fox Sunrise is propelled by five diesel-electric motors with a total power of 1500 kilowatts. The relatively low engine power means that continuous manning in the engine room is not necessary, which Axel Magnusson, chief engineer, is pleased about.
”On the last ship I had problems sleeping – not so much on board, but when I got home. Here I work in the daytime and only need to get up for an alarm at night once or twice a week, which works much better.”
The engine room is bright, with a high ceiling. The air feels exceptionally fresh and the noise level is relatively low. Axel points at the white cowlings and grey metal covers that enclose the machinery.
”They keep in a lot of the dirt and particles that normally get into the air in an engine room,” he says in a loud voice to be heard through the earplugs. ”They are a bit in the way when doing maintenance, it’s true, but I still prefer having them, and this is probably the best engine room I’ve worked in.”
The number of motors used depends on how much power is needed, but normally the ship switches between two and three motors. Not only is this energy-efficient, it also allows Axel to do work on the motors while they are sailing.
”I can do work here virtually any time, and I’m usually down here three or four hours a day. I am responsible for all the engineering and electronics on board, and I also help out on the deck as and when necessary.”
At 10 in the morning the crew gather in the corner sofa on the bridge. Kaj Lagerros, the ship’s cook, comes up with a tray of freshly baked cinnamon buns.
”We meet here at 10 am and 3 pm and enjoy a bite with some coffee,” says the master, Emil Wijk. ”It’s great that people like to get together, and we take advantage of the opportunities.”
The bridge is equipped with many details in wood and Emil thinks that the instruments are well-placed. In the ceiling above the helmsman’s seat there is a VHF radio, intercom, AIS, log and gyro. Steering controls and keypads are mounted on the side of the seat.
”I like that the buttons light up when they are pushed in,” says Emil. ”You need never to think about whether a function is on or not, since it’s clearly visible even in darkness. Some people who are shorter than me may feel that instruments in the ceiling are a little high up, but they can always stand on the foot plate to reach them.”
Fox Sunrise was one of the first Swedish ships to be equipped with double electronic charts, which means that no paper charts are used. Updating paper sea charts is otherwise a time-consuming task for the second mate.
”I’ve only worked on this ship so I don’t have much else to compare it with,” says second mate Johannes Lantz. ”But things work really smoothly with ECDIS and on the route we now have, paper charts would probably have been worn out fairly soon by all the rubbing out.”
Freshly baked bread for breakfast
Kaj Lagerros is down in the galley preparing Saturday dinner, which according to the menu on the wall will be pork tenderloin with curry sauce and various side dishes. The dessert is moist chocolate cake with strawberry topping.
”What we make here in the galley affects the whole ship, so I always serve fresh bread for breakfast and something to go with the coffee. We buy supplies at Coop in Sisjön when we moor in Gothenburg. It’s not exactly the best solution, but it works.”
After working almost 40 years in different galleys onboard, he has a lot to compare with and he is very happy with his current workplace.
”This is one of the best galleys I have worked in,” he says. ”Large work surfaces are good when you’re baking, so you don’t have to run around and look for things.”
Emelie Lundberg, trainee officer, has also settled in well. She is in her third year of studies on the Sea Captain programme in Kalmar and has worked on several different ships during her practice periods.
”This is probably the best ship I have been on so far,” she says. ”I like to work on tankers and I feel more relaxed when there are fewer people on board.”
But even though the general atmosphere is good and the ship is designed well for the work to be done, the work load is still high. The mates and able body seamen have six on six off watches (work six hours and rest six hours) and in bad weather or with frequent bunkering, the work is heavy.
”If things get really bad and you are worn out, you can tell Emil and he will run the ship for a while,” says Henrik. ”But it is certainly hard work. It’s a good thing we don’t have more than two-week assignments, because it would be difficult to do much more.”
Just before eleven on Saturday evening, the meter in the deckhouse shows that the transfer to Stena Sassnitz will soon be completed. Jimmy is in the deckhouse, counting down the volume on the radio to Henrik, up on the bridge. When the counter is at 140 cubic metres, the pumps are shut off. Henrik puts on his jacket and steps into his work shoes to help retrieve the hose fitting and cast off. It is 11.30 in the evening when Fox Sunrise is finally moored at the dock once again in Trelleborg. A few hours’ sleep are now possible before the next bunkering starts at 8.00 on Sunday morning.
”This route is fairly quiet, but sometimes we are in the wind off Skagen with up to eight bunkerings per day,” says Jimmy. ”Then the stress makes things tough.”