Wednesday, 23 December 1998

Superstar Leo

22.09.1998 - 23.12.1998
M/v Superstar Leo

Superstar Leo (unknown photographer)

Having completed my contract I was at home when the phone rang and I was asked to join Superstar Leo that was a new building being built at the Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany. The 1st Officer there had wringed his ankle and had to go on sick leave so they called me to replace the 2nd Officer that was being promoted to 1st Officer. I accepted and was soon on my way to Germany.

Superstar Leo in Papenburg (unknown photographer)

In Germany there was full swing going on and the last preparations before the yard handover to the Owner. When the time came I was at the flag line hoisting the Panamanian flag up and the German flag down in front of all the big directors of both Companies. The ship was huge, it was a whopping 268m long and had 75338 gross tons. She had a crew of 1100 and could take on some 2000 passengers. In my 4mths onboard I did not even have the time to venture to the lowest decks of the ship, she has 13 decks. The propulsion is diesel electric that gave out some 30MW of power to the fixed twin screws making her go 27 knots max.

Superstar Leo (unknown photographer)

The bridge itself was bigger than a football field, the distance from the conning station to the chart table was so long that when the phone rang you would not be able to answer it in time by walking over. She had 20 lifeboats of which 4 was also used as tenders and 2 rescue boats. The bridge was equipped with the latest NACOS navigation system from Germany. The 1st Officer was Mika Appel and he taught a lot and was very frank on any issue and not afraid of lifting the cat on the table.

We sailed from Papenburg towards Mumbai, India for a PR event and the voyage took weeks for us, all the way down the English Channel, over the Bay of Biscay, a bit of Atlantic Ocean at the Portuguese coast, then entering the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and Mumbai. During these weeks there was a lot of rehearsals, drills, routines carved out etc. etc. to make the ship tick for its intended purpose. During the voyage we were not overtaken even once, the fast container ships were hanging on for awhile but they also eventually fell behind.

In Mumbai we stayed only a few hours and soon continued towards Port Klang. There we were met by a Horn band playing and the Directors of the Company including some of the Malay Royal family dignitaries from the state of Selangor. From here we staretd sailing on our new schedule: Singapore - Port Klang - Langkawi - Phuket on a weeks rotation. In Phuket we had a lot of tendering to do and I must say that the German made Fassmer tenders we had were nice and quiet to drive. Only thing I opined about was that you could never stand properly and maneuver and sitting was with your knees in your mouth, so not the most ergonomic working position if you drove the tenders 4hrs in a row.

Singapore Straits

As it was such a big ship there was also Officers by the dozen: Captain, Staff Captain, Safety Manager, Chief Officer, Security Officer, 1st Officer, 2nd Officer (2 guys), 2nd Officer jr, 3rd Officer (2 guys). Already 11 Officers and ratings there was some 30, they were divided in day and night crew so there were also 2 Boatswains. On the bridge there was always 2 Officers on duty and same in engine room. One Engineer sat in the Control room while another roamed the engine room. They were connected by walkie talkies and the guy in the control room was giving information of things to rectify (alarms that were coming up).

Here I also visited Thailand for the first time of my life and I was invited to go ashore for dinner with a Thai called Cindy. She was working as a masseuse onboard and I knew her from SSS already as she had been transferred from there, a nice outgoing girl that was there for the money (as we all were). Ashore we went for a seafood restaurant and I had the most wonderful dinner in my life. Unfortunately the oysters I had did not agree with me so the next day I came down with diarrhea and visited the Medical clinic onboard.

I got some pills from the nurse there that took away the loose stomach but did not remove the problem. As there was no bowel movement I got worse and worse during my off duty and I went back again to the First aid clinic, this time consulting the Swedish Doctor we had working there. She thought I was crazy having eaten oysters and I agreed with her. She put me on a trip and soon I lost consciousness. I woke up after 24 hrs staring at the Captain and wondered where I was. I remembered what had happened and the Doc informed me that I had passed the worst and had to take it easy. After another 24hrs I was on my feet again and back on duty. I have avoided oysters since then and my stomach felt odd several months afterwards.

M/v SuperStar Leo (photo by Jan G. Rautawaara)

But as it was the flagship of Star Cruises it also carried the worst kind of crew that specialized in elbowing and backstabbing when trying to prove themselves to the Management. The brotherly love between Finland and Sweden has never been good and it came out very clearly that the Swedes were on the top and Finn's were doing the dirty work (apart from a few exceptions). I think this animosity hailed from the times when the Swedish Slite shipping company was made to default by the banks due to some wheeling and dealing from their Finnish counterparts and then was overtaken by SF Line in Mariehamn, a lot of Swedish sailors lost their jobs that time. The Slite ships were eventually sold to Star Cruises that were just starting up operations on their Casino money earned in Genting highlands.

As I never been afraid of telling my honest opinion of anything I probably came over as overly negative or critical when reviewing several of the systems and routines that were carried out onboard. In this course I also probably made some toes very sore so in the end when my contract ended I was let known by Captain Svedung that I was not welcome in the Company anymore with the imaginary excuse of breaching some crew behavior regulation. There was not much to say so I signed off in Singapore and flew to Thailand for a holiday to pick up the pieces and find other things to do.

This incident made me grow out of the naivety of a Merchant ship sailor that all people are taken at face value and nobody wants anything bad for you. It taught me also to be more careful of what I let out of my mouth and to mind my own business...
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Wednesday, 16 September 1998

Superstar Sagittarius

16.06.1998 - 16.09.1998
M/v Superstar Sagittarius

Superstar Sagittarius at Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia

As I had applied for a job in Star Cruises something like a year ago and I had been contacted by the HR department in Sweden and a bit before Roslagen I had been invited to visit their Offices. I went to Stockholm for an interview and to Skåne for a psychological evaluation. The psychological test was weird but aren't they all a bit odd in that profession. In the Navy we also had to do a psych test and it involved questions like "do you like flowers?", "do you sometimes feel that you have a band squeezing your head?" - makes sense doesn't it?

So, then I got the call that I was to fly to Port Klang, Malaysia and join Superstar Sagittarius (SSS) as 2nd Officer. Said and done I was on my way and joined up, a familiarization was conducted by the Officer I was relieving so I got the best introduction that one could have. SSS was a Finnish built ship back from 1972 originally built for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and launched as Sun Viking. She is 172m long with 18455 gross tons and carries abt 800 passengers with 350 crew.

Helsinki yard in 1972, Sun Viking on the right (unknown photographer)

Made in the Helsinki shipyard she was still a classic old lady with her long sleek bow and champagne glass stern and the RCCL signature crown lounge in the funnel. As old as she was the tank top was getting rotten, safety equipment needed a lot of service and machinery in general was worn out. Spares were difficult, if not impossible, to find, because of her age.

The crew on Star Cruises was really multi national, there were people from all over the world with Filipinos and Malays topping the list, then came all the SE Asian countries and after that Scandinavians with some odd Australian and Central European thrown in. We were cruising out from Port Klang to Lumut and sometimes just high seas gambling cruises. The Captain was an old Norwegian fellow named Kristiansen that I think must have followed the boat since the times of RCCL.

I recall one day in Port Klang when the Safety Manager wanted me to take down all the lifeboats and run the engines and train in rowing the boats. Well, said and done I took respective boats down with their assigned crews and drove down the river a bit and then we did some rowing for abt half an hour. Then we started back and as we were turning towards SSS one of the lifeboat engines died. No worries there, we took her on tow and continued but lo and behold we were going full ahead but looking at the shore we were not moving anywhere. The tide was rising so fast and we were going against the tide but the life boat did not make any headway because it was towing another one. One hour turned into another, the sun was scorching, the boats were of open model so there was no shade, luckily we wore caps. We had to drink the water from the tanks as we got more and more parched. Finally, the crew on the other lifeboat managed to get some life into the engine and we reached SSS and hoisted all boats into their davits. It was a very long lifeboat maneuver.

SSS as m/v Long Jie with Conning Shipping (unknown photographer)

As a footnote to SSS, she was soon sold to cruise between South and North Korea after that she was bought by Conning Shipping, incidentally the same Company that chartered and later owned Columbus Caravelle, small circles.
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Monday, 8 June 1998


20.05.1998 - 08.06.1998
M/s Roslagen

Roslagen (unknown photographer)

I had a job with Star Cruises and was preparing to go again to Far East, this time to a big time cruise ship but I was called from the job centre and they pleaded me to go and do a replacement job on Eckerö Lines M/s Roslagen as 1st Officer. I was first reluctant but the Eckerö Lines HR called me that there was nobody available and they needed an Officer acutely as the other had become sick.

Roslagen (unknown photographer)

So, I relented and went for it, after all it was just another job. M/s Roslagen built 1972 in Germany is 108m long and could load 1320 passengers and 210 cars. The route she was plying went from Eckerö, Finland to Grisslehamn, Sweden. During the day we did 5 round trips all in all. At times I was disoriented of where I really was, in Finland or Sweden.

Roslagen (unknown photographer)

The Captain's maneuvering the ship into Eckerö where experts in the maneuver, whatever the weather we had. The approach speed was around 10 kts and from there engines were crossed and the ship swung by it's forward momentum to reverse into the berth. The trust on the machinery was 100%, if anything would have given away there would have been dents to fix.

After finishing the contract I was still asked to stay for the remainder of the summer but I had other arrangements with Star Cruises so I thanked them for the offer but could not take them up on it which was a pity as everyone were nice.
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Friday, 17 April 1998

Columbus Caravelle

09.01.1998 - 17.04.1998
m/v Columbus Caravelle

M/s Columbus Caravelle at WTC in Singapore

After Finnmaid I was again back on Columbus Caravelle (CoCa) under the management of BMC. This turn was proving to be very taxing in terms of harmony onboard between the Scandinavians and I did not want to come back to CoCa after this. I was so disappointed in the management decisions taken by BMC.

See the mooring buoy during typhoon

Our neighboring ship, M/s Walrus at her buoy

I came to relieve C/O Hans Söderholm as Chief Officer myself and there was quite a bit of turmoil as Söderholm was going to stay onboard to make the now mandatory ISM manual. Apparently Captain Henning Törnqvist and him had made a deal with the Management behind our backs to make the manual and just use the existing routines that were setup by Captain Ralf Jacobsen while enjoying double salaries. Chief Engineer Eric Seffer was furious, everybody was put off and the paranoia that set in due to this action made the atmosphere quite toxic. In the end I was elected to go and throw Söderholm offboard so I went and asked him to leave the ship and he went (to a hotel) to continue his manual making.

Bullseye by typhoon York, plots from 2 different met stations

At same time I recall there was a big incident with our Filipino 2nd Officer Lucio who went and signed an Engineering work done report without the consent of the Chief Engineer. I had to give him a severe dressing down that did not go down to him as constructive criticism. He somehow managed to get booze from ashore and got himself dead drunk and was in the middle of the night knocking on my door asking for his salary and behaved quite threatening in general. I managed to get him to see reason and to back off. Next morning he was not able to take his watch so he was turned in and when the high had gone he submitted his resignation and that was accepted by the Captain the same afternoon.
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