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In less than a day, the crew on Donsötank’s M/S Bonito established new procedures to counteract the spread of the coronavirus. Master Fredrik Jahrén believes that this rapid adaptation was made possible by the tanker crew being used to changes and having a generally high safety awareness.

When Fredrik Jahrén left home in Åland to sign on in Amsterdam on March 13, he started to realize just how serious the escalating pandemic was. At Arlanda there were far fewer passengers than usual and in Amsterdam there were even fewer.

The shipping company had issued guidelines as recommendations, which the union had given out to support the crews at the shipping company, but we took it one step further and carried out a complete lock-down of the ship and self-isolated. We put the extra measures into practice in less than a day and they were in full force when we arrived in Antwerp the following day.

More measures were taken, but the basic concept was to keep the ship closed to outsiders as far as possible. An office was set up on deck for those directly involved in cargo operations. Other external contacts, such as agents, government representatives and so on, were asked to manage communications with the ship using e-mail as far as possible.

“We thought it would be difficult to get people to accept this idea, but in fact there was a very positive response. I think people in the ports were more afraid of us than we were of them,” says Fredrik Jahrén.

The procedures for signing on and off have also been changed. Crew changes are concentrated to the ports where this is possible. In the best case, you want to change crews in Sweden to reduce travelling to and from the ship.

Threat of quarantine

“As far as possible, crewmembers now travel to and from the ship using a rental car to avoid contact with other people. When you arrive on board, you go through a special entrance, wash your hands, use hand disinfectant, shower and change clothes. We do as much as we can to protect ourselves without actually stopping crew changes,” says Fredrik Jahrén.

He has been back home with his family on Åland since mid-April and will stay there for a couple of months. What worried him most during the four weeks on board was that someone in the crew would get ill.

“Before each port of call, we have to submit a health report and if someone is ill there is a risk that the ship will be kept in quarantine. That’s another reason why we decided so quickly to take action on our own,” says Fredrik Jahrén.

The fact that they were able to make the changes on Bonito so quickly, according to Fredrik Jahrén, is partly because the crew is used to adapting and changing with new directives. Tanker shipping is the most heavily regulated segment in shipping, and it is not uncommon that new measures are suddenly implemented to increase safety on board.

“We are very open to change on tankers and so we are accustomed to adapting and we do it very quickly. We also have a very high level of safety. Everything we do is related to safety and it helps in a situation like this.”

Fredrik Jahrén signed off in Borgå, Finland, in mid-April. From there he drove through an almost entirely deserted Finland on an EU certificate that provides transport workers the right to travel across closed borders. This was necessary because Finland had cut off the whole of Nyland, including the capital of Helsinki, and put up roadblocks for travelling in and out.

“Most border inspectors do not seem to be familiar with these certificates though, so it is really important to have all your travel documents in order,” he says.

Fredrik Jahrén
Age: Will be 50 this year.
Lives: House in the centre of Mariehamn on Åland.
Family: Wife Johanna, two sons: Axel, 13, and Joel, 9.
Background: Made his first trip in 1987 as a deckhand on a multipurpose ship. Has subsequently sailed for Swedish and foreign shipping companies in various positions. Mainly in tankers, but also on RoRo and bulk vessels, ferries, combination ships and offshore.
Currently: Responsible for the introduction of anti-corona procedures aboard Donsötank’s M/S Bonito. 2019.
Work environment tips: If we can achieve a very good, safe work environment on Swedish ships, we ensure our crews feel good and stay at our shipping companies. This also makes us stand out as a high-quality option in the international market, which I believe is important in competing with other players. Of course we want to be the best in the class in what we do!

Linda Sundgren

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