Maritime transport: the Atlantic adventure


The last ton of nickel is loaded, the last sailor on board, the last moored mooring. The Federal Oshima is about to descend the St. Lawrence, then cross the Atlantic. Get on board with Press.

TEXT: Philippe Teisceira-Lessard
TEXT: Philippe Teisceira-Lessard
The Press

The Press

The slow crossing of the Federal Oshima

ATLANTIC OCEAN – "Belle Isle Traffic, Belle Isle Traffic, here the Federal Oshima. We leave your area. – Federal Oshima, here Belle Isle Traffic. Well noted. Nothing to add. "

With these simple words through the frying of a VHF radio, the Atlantic officially opened in front of the huge ship. The Strait of Belle Isle was crossed.

Nothing had changed on board. Sailors continued to sand steel pieces on the bow of the ship, the second continued his discussion punctuated by laughter with the helmsman, the kitchen prepared the masala it would serve hungry sailors two hours later.

But everything had changed. Almost three days after leaving Quebec, the last few square meters of Canadian land were slowly moving behind the bulk carrier. Labrador Point on one side, Belle Isle Newfoundland Island on the other.

"Look at them well, because these are the last ribs you'll see before long," said Captain Rajat Roychowdhury.

Direction: Europe, with 26,000 tonnes of Quebec raw metals on board. Nickel, cast iron and titanium respectively for the heavy industries of Norway, Germany and Spain. They will be delivered in this order.

A crew of 23 sailors count on the ship to bring them safely to port. All are Indian. By passion or for the competitive salary, they leave their family for several months a year and embark without knowing their destinations.

For now, head northeast, to the Norwegian port of Kristiansand. Next stop in the perpetual race of the Federal Oshima.

A taxi from the seas

Cross the Atlantic by ship: a project of another century, at a time when Paris was not seven short hours from Montreal, where to beat the sun running in the sky was unimaginable.

Yet it is the journey that still makes most of the products traded between the two continents: 95% of world trade passes at one time or another by sea.

And to ensure transportation, thousands of boats like the Federal Oshima furrow the oceans, far from the eyes of consumers. It belongs to Fednav, a Montreal-based company that operates another hundred. All bulk carriers, who carry raw products, unpackaged and often unprocessed.

The owner is from Montreal, the manager is Chinese, the boat is registered in the Marshall Islands and the crew is Indian. A Canadian flag floats on the mast. No need to travel the world, the planet is already reunited on the Federal Oshima.

Two short days before the planned departure, the route of the boat has changed completely. He had to join the north of Spain from Sorel before reaching Rotterdam. But a customer came forward and a new cargo was added to his holds: the precious matte nickel, to be loaded in Quebec City and delivered to Kristiansand, Norway.

Scenario rare, but possible, had warned Mr. Gagnon: a cargo can change hands during the voyage, completely diverting the ship.

Big time

The Federal Oshima is tossed by the waves, like a toy with which a child would have fun in his bath. The North Atlantic has welcomed the ship in its own way, with two days of heavy weather. An area of ​​depression escorts him against his will.

The portholes of the main deck fill alternately with the blue of the sky and the black of the sea, as if someone were playing with the switch. The sea looks like a textured map in a class of geography, with its mountains, valleys and snowy peaks. An ephemeral topography, which changes every tenth of a second.

At the meal, a tamarind broth is served, an acidic and strong decoction supposed to fight the nausea. Spices float there. "Drink, it will help you keep food in your stomach," Captain Roychowdhury says, taking a sip. In the officers' mess, a wooden hoop now surrounds the table to prevent utensils from being thrown on the floor. Forks and knives still wander around scented dishes.

Time is suspended on the ship. No operations on the bridge: too dangerous. Sailors take care of small interior works: the unpleasant smell of fresh paint struggles with the scents of the kitchen. A delicate mechanical intervention had been practiced just before, to enjoy the calm waters of the St. Lawrence.

In the wheelhouse, the second Umar Tomesh is working as if the Federal Oshima was not tossed by waves of 4 m. He saw worse: during his last assignment, the ship was rolling twice as hard. To the point of presenting a real danger.

Red code

Wednesday, 3 pm The captain's urgent voice is heard in the intercom system: "Everyone in the wheelhouse. Everyone in the wheelhouse. "

The boat is in "red code": the breakage of a part of the engine causes an oil leak. It must be stopped in order to make the repairs, but this maneuver will make it particularly exposed to the bad weather which lasts for more than 36 hours now. It is better for all the crew to come together to avoid accidents.

Looking worried, he lights a cigarette. The engine stops, the waves take advantage of it to attack the ship violently. Twelve minutes pass. A walkie-talkie crackles. Mission accomplished.

Chief Engineer Vedkontho Ganguly will smile at the next meal. Everything finally went well? "I would not have that face any other way," he says.

"We need everything on board to repair the ship," says Ganguly. We can only rely on ourselves. There is someone on the line who can advise us, but we must do the repairs ourselves. "

The chief mechanic's playground is the belly of the ship. A huge machine room made of walkways, pumps and pipes. The engine is three stories high.

After moving away from Canada, the Federal Oshima travels far south of Greenland and Iceland to the islands bordering Scotland. "Since our departure, we have not met any ship within 200 nautical miles," confirmed Umar Tomesh, second, shortly before arriving in British waters. In case of glitch, the reinforcements are far away.

25 km / h

Time scrolls differently on the ship. First, because the officers themselves decide what time it is: by gradually advancing the clock in the wheelhouse, all other clocks on board will gradually catch up with the six-hour time difference between Canada and Norway. .

The Federal Oshima progressing to around 12 knots on average to reach its destination – the equivalent of around 25 km / h. The slow progression is constant. At night, the vibration of the engine mingles with the gurgling water brewed by the ship.

Time goes slowly when the scenery is the same from one day to the next. Nothing is more like a wave than another wave.

When you spend 10 months on board, time goes even slower.

In front of the captain's cabin door, the 10 sailors who must leave the Federal Oshima in Kristiansand are waiting for their turn to sign the necessary forms. Ten out of twenty-three, almost half of the crew will change.

Kumar Lakhvir embarked at the beginning of November 2018 on the ship: he will soon meet his wife, his 11-year-old daughter and his 8-year-old boy.

The sailor will stay with them for a few months before going back to sea.

Before the long-awaited separation, Captain Roychowdhury organizes a party on the deck of the ship. In the fog, south of Iceland, the Indian pop resonates to the point of burying the engine. The arms rise, the ankles relax and the sailors celebrate.

Life on the ship is normally governed by a strict code: officers and crew eat separately, a steward serves first and everyone gives "Sir" to the captain.

But this time, through the smoke of the barbecue installed for the occasion, the formalities fall. The captain taps on the back of his steward, the officers dance with the rest of the crew, and the cook releases the stoves.

After all, they are in the same boat.

Portraits of sailors

They leave for months, miles away from their family, to sail on the seas of the world. Who are they ?

Abdul Salam Biswas, cook, 35 years old

Long live WiFi

"I have been working on boats for 14 years. I took a cooking class and I got on board: I never worked as a cook on dry land. My family is in Calcutta, I have an 8 year old boy there. I make nine-month contracts on the ship: at this moment, I have five and a half months left before returning home. Now we have WiFi, but when I started, we only had access to a satellite phone and it was very expensive. On a ship, my salary is perhaps twice as high as I would have in India. "

Vedkontho Ganguly, Chief Engineer, 35

"I want to ask myself"

"I'm on the Federal Oshima for four months. This is my first contract as chief mechanic and I feel the pressure is high. If something does not work with the engine, I am the ultimate responsible, there is no one who will come to our rescue. My grandfather was working on the railways, I think it's thanks to him that I'm doing this job. Two years ago, I wanted to continue traveling. Now, I want to ask myself and spend time with my family, with my 2-year-old daughter. I miss them, but we learn to compartmentalize our life in our head to be able to do our job. "

Rizath Merwin, oiler, 32 years old

Baby by video

"I'm on the Federal Oshima for almost nine months. My wife gave birth to a little girl four months ago. This is our first child. I saw it via videoconference, but not in person. We talk to each other every day. She does not have a name yet, we're waiting for my return to name her. I bought baby clothes in Toledo, USA, where the ship stopped in April. I've been sailing for 10 years. I do not like to be far from my family, but here I win two or three times what I would do in India. I send the money home. "

Rajat Roychowdhury, captain, 42 years old

A life of adventure

"I was planning a military career, but an accident prevented me from doing it. I looked for another avenue to travel and live adventures, so I chose the merchant marine. I am passionate about my job and I think it takes passion to be so far from our family for so long. Right now, I'm on the ship so I'm not available if my wife or my son needs me. I make $ 10,000 US a month on a tax-free contract, and I work about eight months a year. The rest of the time, I rest. "

* These quotes have been modified for ease of reading

Life on the water

The 23 crew members have well defined roles so that the Federal Oshima get to the destination with as little snags as possible. But the ship is also their living environment for many months. A glimpse of their daily life.

At the controls of Federal Oshima

Take control of the ship to cross the Atlantic. Only the most important devices are included in this photo. Dozens of other joysticks, switches, electronic devices or old-fashioned occupy the wheelhouse. The most important are embarked in double (even triple) to mitigate any damage.

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