A new changing room, network cables for cabins, a gym and changes in the galley. Improvement work on M/S Gotland has been going on ever since its delivery nine years ago. Most major projects have been driven by the local Safety Committee.
About half an hour after departure from Nynäshamn, the lashing of freight and trailers is completed. Dennis Berggren, mate, throws off his thick jacket and sits down for a cup of coffee in the canteen. Ever since the ship was delivered from the shipyard in China in 2003 he has been the safety officer onboard, and over the years several major improvements have been made.
“There were many design faults which we have corrected step by step, and there are still things that need fixing. A ship like this is probably never really finished, but it would certainly have been cheaper to do it right from the beginning instead of changing things afterwards,” says Dennis.
Discussion in the mess
Lunch is on the way and it is soon full around the table. Dennis says that they are currently working on some railings at the aft of deck five to eliminate the risk of falling when replacing fluorescent tubes.
“I have something we should look into,” says second mate Helena Jansson as she sits down, “and that is the fact that we don’t have any job descriptions. For new employees who can’t just work by routine, or if something unexpected happens, it’s really important to have in writing what tasks each person is responsible for.”
There is a discussion around the table and several others agree with the second mate. Although the matter had already been taken up with the shipping company, Dennis says that it should also be addressed by the safety committee.
“We’ll do that. But I’ve not thought about this before, and to drive an issue, somebody must raise it,” he says.
One thing that has been high on the agenda for several years is a proper changing room for ratings and mates. Dennis says that until recently they (10 crewmembers) had an area of five square metres to share with too few cabinets, and they had to keep their protective clothing in the cabins. Now they have a really large room on deck two, which was unused for a long time. As well as the cupboards and benches that are already in place, it will also have sofas and tables.
“It will be great,” says Dennis when we are standing in the refurbished changing room. Now we won’t have to get changed when we’re just going into the dayroom for a quick coffee and a snack.
There is a storage room, too. Dennis opens a couple of high metal doors and shows a stock of pressure masks, filters and disposable overalls.
“The company has been damned good at providing what we need, and we get the best quality. Awareness of protective equipment has increased and you can see that in the office ashore as well as here onboard,” he says.
On the way out we meet a group of Dennis’s colleagues from the sister ship, M/S Visby. They are onboard to look over the new dressing room because they have the same problem with space themselves. The plan is to keep the ships as identical as possible, and a few years ago it was decided to introduce joint safety committee meetings. Dennis says that the project is a little slow and so far they have only had one meeting, but that the idea is good.
“It’s fun to compare how we choose to solve different problems,” he says.
On M/S Gotland there are three permanent safety officers and one deputy from each department: deck, engine room and onboard service. In addition, there is one chief safety officer who coordinates the work. A safety committee meeting is held about once every three months and many of the larger changes that have been implemented have been pushed through by this committee. Examples include the new changing room, changes in the galley where sharp corners have been removed and work benches adjusted, the building of a gym and, most recently, network cables installed in the cabins. “The last project was really needed,” says Dennis.
“Before we had only two computers with internet access: one in the games room and one in the dayroom. But it doesn’t feel very good to sit and pay bills and send e-mail with a bunch of people around you, so it’s very nice to be able to sit in your cabin and do those things.”
Not everything needs to follow the official path, though, says Dennis.
“We have great crewmembers here. If we have a problem on the deck, for example, and we need help from the machine guys to fix it, we talk to them directly and they fix it. There is always something that needs to be repaired or fixed on a ship like this, but we can solve most things ourselves without having to call a safety committee meeting.”
After a little more than three hours’ sailing, M/S Gotland steers in between the stone walls in Visby harbour. Dennis and his colleagues, who have taken a walk ashore, have put plenty of layers on against the biting wind. The deck is like an ice-rink, despite the fact that there are now detachable plates for the hawse hole to prevent most of the rain and sea water from washing in.
“Before we got them, lots of water would blow in and you could hardly be here. In winter they would freeze up, and then you had to go out before arrival to knock a hole in the ice. But now things are much better,” says Dennis.
As soon as the ship is moored at the quayside, Dennis goes down onto the cargo deck. In the middle of the week and in the middle of the day during the low season, there are not many vehicles and the deck is soon completely empty. Otherwise, loading and unloading is one of the most critical jobs on deck. Both passenger cars and commercial trucks are usually in a hurry, both off and on, and the crew has to keep out of their way.
“You see the steel plates over there,” says Dennis and points towards one of the side bulkheads. ”A while ago there was a Bollnäs truck [takes freight off the ship] which skidded due to ice and went straight into the bulkhead. Had there been someone there, it could have been really nasty. ”
But, he says, it has become much safer to work onboard. During the last four or five years alone there have been big changes, with a tightening of the rules, changes in attitude and government controls.
“Everyone is much more aware now. The pressure is on us to make risk assessments and that has resulted in us looking at the work environment in a completely different way. In the beginning the analyses were pretty difficult but now they have become a lot easier, which means that they are used more too. ”
After a few hours in Visby, including a compulsory fire protection drill, it is time to return. Dennis, who has had a few hours off, takes the opportunity to eat this evening’s liver stew and have a coffee in the crowded lounge. At half past eight it will be time for him to start work again.