Not just a captain, but a new commodore of the China Navigation Company

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Captain Andrei Savchenko has been with the China Navigation Company since 2004 and has worked at sea as a captain for 12 years, since October 2005.

In August 25, 2017, he was appointed as a new commodore of the company China Navigation, which will require him to take on some additional tasks and responsibilities over the next five years.

The newspaper The Maritime Telegraph asked the captain about his work in the company, about the difficulties of the most responsible position on the ship and about the new appointment.

MT: Mr. Savchenko, how did you start to work with China Navigation? Were you been promoted quickly?

Savchenko: I started working with the Company as a chief officer in February 2004 with assistance of Alpha Navigation Crewing Company. Then Alpha worked with my colleague, and he invited me to come to the office and get an interview with a representative of CNCo, Captain David Watkins. I passed the interview and got a chief officer position.

I became a captain very quickly, after two voyages as a chief officer I was sent to the Leadership and Management courses and then I immediately was offered a master position. By that time, I had already worked as a chief officer for 8 years in other companies. At that time the CNCo fleet was small, up to 15 vessels. Basically, these were multipurpose vessels (MPP), we carried both container and general cargo.

MT: Have you worked on lumber carriers that the company bought not so long ago?

Savchenko: Yes, I had one voyage on a lumber carrier. I delivered a new ship Erisort at the shipyard. The loading process differs a little on the lumber carriers as well as lashing which plays more important role. Then we organized special courses on locating and securing cargo on these vessels. What is good about China Navigation is that they never throw people into battle without preparation. Before delivering a vessel, one hired captain with very good experience on lumber carriers, conducted an intensive course on loading and lashing such cargo, told and showed all the nuances. At that time, only the boatswain had experience on such vessels, despite this, we coped with everything.

MT: What vessels do you work on now? Tell us about the working and living conditions. Are you satisfied with everything?

Savchenko: I work on MPP now. We carry containers, bulldozers, cars, pipes, metal products. In the overwhelming majority all companies are managers now who take ships in management from the ship-owner and operate vessels. China Navigation is a ship-owner company, and they are looking for work with the help of a subsidiary charter company. In this regard, it is easier to work with them than with others. Commercial pressure does not prevail over security. And safety is at the highest level. In recent years, with the expansion of the fleet, a lot of money has been invested in security. I am sure that they are on a good step ahead of many other companies.

I am very satisfied with the working conditions. Almost all vessels are new, cabins can be compared to a three-star hotel: wide beds, comfortable living conditions. It has become more comfortable to work.

MT: You have been appointed as a commodore of the Company. What does it mean? What kind of authority does it give, and what additional responsibilities does it provide?

Savchenko: I was appointed as a commodore for a period of up to 5 years, and if someone more worthy appears during this time, I will pass him this rank gladly. As a commodore, I must set an example, which imposes more responsibility. In such a position, there is no room for mistakes. This is a challenge to some extent, but it is more interesting to work.

The company wants to know how well their ISM (International Safety Management Code) works. And I will be the feedback between the crew and the company.

MT: Tell about your most dangerous situation during your work at sea. Was there any incident that remembered for a lifetime?

Savchenko: I had a collision in the port. The main engine did not work astern, which led to a collision with another vessel. It was a mechanical reason, it didn’t dependent on the human factor. But I was lucky to some extent that the vessel we collided was also China Navigation’s ship. And I knew the captain on that vessel. He called me and said “Andrew, I’m sorry, but I must write a protest letter on you.” I said: “Of course, I understand.” I had already packed my bags and was ready for signing off. But it was not my direct fault, and we must pay tribute to the company – they are never waste people, their loyalty policy allowed me to continue my working. The damage was minor, but it’s still very unpleasant. It will be remembered forever. Collision is an insurance case, it entails many consequences. And that was a good lesson. Of course, they admonished me. And at the end of the financial year I even got a symbolic bonus, which amazed me. Perhaps they wanted to support me morally, and I was very grateful for that. By the way, then, in 5 years, by a twist of fate, I worked on that vessel and also repaired it at the yard.

There was also the case when we rescued people in distress. It was in the Coral Sea. It was fresh sea weather. I went to the bridge to the third officer, and he noticed an orange spot in the distance. It turned out that the seafarers had been drifting on the raft for a week. They were citizens of the Solomon Islands. They worked on a small barge, and ran into a gale, they managed only to realize the raft and drifted on it. They no longer had any food, they had already fired all the flares, but no one noticed them, and they were on their last leg. We slowed down, went around them, picked them up and brought them back to the Solomon Islands.

MT: What would you recommend to the young generation of seafarers to achieve their goal and professional growth?

Savchenko: First of all, I would advise them to learn English. Our seafarers are already working on the ships of foreign shipowners since the late 80s, that is almost 30 years on the labor market, and, unfortunately, despite this, their level of knowledge of English is very low.

If in the 90s there were still miraculously surviving vessels under the Ukrainian flag or foreign ones with Ukrainian crews, the last 15-17 years there is a clear tendency that seafarers work only in mixed crews. Therefore, seafarers should speak English free. Now young people come to the fleet and communicate at the level of “for me, for you, understand?”. I do not understand this situation. Yes, Filipinos have a slightly worse English, Chinese seamen have very bad English, but do not be equal to them, we should be better. A modern professional seafarer who is looking for work in the international labor market should speak English easily, correctly and competently. Now it should be in the nature of things. Moreover, now there are many opportunities and ways to learn a foreign language in Odessa. And for today English is 50% of career success. It is necessary in the work. Needless to say that sometimes people cannot defend themselves or defend their rights because of insufficient knowledge of the language, they cannot express their thoughts to the chief engineer or the captain. To my great surprise and regret, this is still a problem.

MT: The captain has a lot of work and responsibilities. Do you have time to go ashore, walk around the city, and go shopping?

Savchenko: There isn’t much time for it. It happens that for 4 months of work it is possible to go out 1-2 times for an hour or two. The work is very intensive, there is very little free time. I can say that I managed to see the world when I was a cadet; I had an opportunity to go out and walk around the city. Sometimes there is time, but the port is located so far from the city and residential areas, so there is nowhere to go.

MT: The Company plans to make the Internet available on its vessels. Seafarers are waiting for it, but the senior officers at the same time believe that it will interfere with the work of the crew. What do you think?

Savchenko: The Internet has its advantages and disadvantages. Yes, it is necessary, but at the start it will probably interfere with the work. We can order portable Wi-Fi routers in some ports. And when I order a few of these routers at the port, the ship simply dies. All people sit in social networks. Therefore, if the Internet is made available to the public, people will be lost for some time until everything is organized, and the culture of using of the worldwide network will appear – it is my personal opinion. But on the other hand, the Internet on the boat is not at all like at home. The rate of data transmission is quite different. It cannot be compared with the onshore Internet. Another important factor is cyber security.

And in light of the latest cyber attacks, this issue was brought up for discussion in the IMO. It is expected that at the end of the year the IMO will approve the regulations on cyber security, which will be part of the ISM Code. That is, this is very serious. And this will also affect the Internet, which will be on board. During the latest cyber attacks, the servers of the largest shipping companies were paralyzed. Maersk, in particular, suffered losses of about 300 million dollars.

China Navigation is considering all options to make the Internet accessible to the crew. Likely, they will take equipment for leasing, look at the pros and cons, and then based on this experience they will decide what format of the Internet will be on board. And I do not know if it will be free for the crew. In most companies, seafarers still pay for the Internet. But even if the seafarers are willing to pay for traffic, install equipment, the service costs a lot of money. It’s about millions of dollars.

And we must pay tribute to the company. As I said, if there is an opportunity to get access to the Internet on the coast, the company supports and finances it. I lease 4-5 Wi-Fi modems in ports. I spend on it 250-300 dollars for 2-3 days, and nobody says to save on it. So everything is done in order to make the crew feel good.

MT: What do you do at home during your vacation? Is there any hobby?

Savchenko: I live in a house and I like to dig in the garden. I take a shovel in my hands and immediately forget about the ship. It is a kind of active rest. We grow our own vegetables and fruits. We have a garden with almost 20 trees. We apply the ideas of “smart garden”, described by the practicing horticulturist Nikolai Kurdyumov, the sense of which is to grow both vegetables and fruits with ease and pleasure.

The main thing is to get out in the morning in the garden, to pick your zucchini and fry the pancakes from it, or to eat your cherry directly from the tree. This year we had the first harvest of apples, peaches and pears from trees, which we planted 3 years ago. We have apples and pears of completely different sorts, from the earliest to the latest.

MT: Finally, what are the biggest difficulties in the position of captain?

Savchenko: It’s hard for me to say why I like my profession. I went at sea by vocation. I’m from a maritime family. My father worked as the radio chief on the ship. He retired in the late 90’s. Before that, I worked at the VIMIMU training ships, and from early childhood I went with the cadets to classes, slept with them, ate, painted, etc. It was very interesting to me. Perhaps this played a role in the fact that I decided to become a seafarer later. I finished school in 1988 and I even had no doubt where to go to study. Those years in Odessa it was so natural to go to study in the maritime academy. Although my father discouraged me for a long time – two days, and on the third day we came with documents to the admission committee.

Of course, to be away from the family is difficult, especially with the years. But everyone is used to it and the children too. I have a daughter (she is 15 years old) and a son of 7 years. They, just like me as a child, see their dad rarely. For me to miss someone’s birthday or the New Year – it’s natural. The more children grow, the more you miss them, you want to pay more attention to them, but I do it whenever possible.

In general, working in shipping now is a great stress. Because of freight rates that are very low now. The crisis, which began ashore in 2006-2007, finally spread to shipping. This year, a very large Hanjin company went bankrupt, and it hit the shipping industry very badly. Everyone was frightened by the fact that such a giant collapsed. For the last six months, shipping companies are engaged in risk management and reduce their costs – for many, it’s about survival. In addition, oil prices also have fell, which hits the offshore fleet. It imposes its negative imprint on both the captain’s work and the chief officer.