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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