Executive interview - BIMCO Bulletin

Executive interview

THE EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW Karin Orsel: managing crew change during COVID-19 is like playing Russian roulette. By Mette Kronholm Frænde, Communications Manager and Editor at BIMCO. In each issue, the Bulletin interviews a shipping executive about current topics, challenges and opportunities, and their personal background. In this edition, the Bulletin talks to Karin Orsel, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of MF AShipping Group. Ag Group. As CEO of a shipping company with more than 1,000 crew members on 52 ships, Karin Orsel has managed and watched the crew-change crisis unfold every day since she caught the penultimate flight out of Manila before the Philippines closed its borders at By Mette Kronholm Frænde, Communications Manager and Editor at BIMCO Starting a business at 23 What was the first job you ever held and where in the world was it? What was the first job you held in the shipping/ maritime industry and how did you end up there? If you had not ended up in your current line of work, but done something completely different, what would it be and why? Where in the world did you grow up? What do you do when you need to relax from a hectic work life? Essentially, local governments lack knowledge about our industry Idonot believe it is lack of willingness to help, but it certainly is ignorance The initiatives are important and needed, according to Orsel, as a company can only do its best, but not advance, without support from governments and decisionmakers. “Essentially, local governments lack knowledge about our industry. They are unaware that a lot of our goods come from countries such as China and need to go from A to B to C, and that it takes a huge logistics chain to function,” says Orsel. “Essentially, I do not believe it is lack of willingness to help, but it certainly is ignorance.” While managing to perform a number of crew changes, albeit under very difficult circumstances, MF Shipping Group was unable to realise 40 per cent of crew changes at the peak of the crisis last year. The company has had crew forced to stay on ships for more than a year, when they should have been on board for just seven months. The pressure has been tremendous for the crew, and for the company’s office staff too. Here, Orsel shares examples of some of the toughest periods she, her crew, and her office staff have faced during the pandemic. She hopes her account will help raise awareness of what seafarers experience when rules often change every day and they are not allowed to finish their shifts and go home, and what the office staff go through when they have to repeatedly relay bad news to colleagues at sea and families at home. A seafarer passes away Last year, MF Shipping Group experienced the death of one of its seafarers. Despite having all the precautions in place – facemasks, social distancing, disinfection and tests prior to joining the ship – an external pilot coming on board turned out to be COVID-19 positive and passed on the virus to a number of the crew on board. “The passing of our seafarer is the saddest episode of all that we have encountered up to now. He was just 47 years old. We did everything we could,” says Orsel. “The fact is that it makes everyone realise that in this COVID situation, even when you do everything possible, managing crew changes and avoiding the worst-case scenarios, it is like playing Russian roulette. No measures will be enough, and the consequences can be huge for everyone, at sea and in the office. We were all shocked and devastated at how quickly this developed,” Orsel says. The seafarer who died was from the Philippines and was infected by a pilot in the UK. The ship was diverted to Rotterdam where he later died in hospital. He had to be cremated in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions before his ashes could be returned home to the Philippines for burial. “Normally, it is very important for the family to have the body of their family member arrive home for a funeral to follow the traditions. But because of COVID-19, you can forget about that,” says Orsel. “My colleagues set up a video conference between the seafarer’s hospital bed and his wife and children back home, and arranged for a priest to conduct a ceremony. It was a shocking experience, and it was very tough to deal with for everyone.”Turned away by seven different ports In other cases, MF Shipping Group has unsuccessfully contacted large numbers of ports in attempts to perform overdue crew changes and has often come up against politics and illogical rules and procedures. “At times, we had to check with up to seven different ports last year before being allowed to change crew. Every time, we were told that we could come into the harbour, but not change crew, or we could come to the harbour but there were no flights available,” says Orsel. “Interestingly, we have had cases where we managed to take part of a Russian crew off in Pakistan, but the Philippine crew members were not allowed to leave the ship. So, sometimes it is very illogical and very political. Consequently, some of our crew members have been on board for more than one year. It is unheard of.” Political games Elsewhere, MF Shipping Group has had crew confined to their COVID hotel rooms in China for a month, and has had to find creative solutions to allow them to join ships and start a job. “All these constant changes put a lot of pressure on my colleagues here in the office, because they really care for the people out at sea,” says Orsel. “If you have to call and bring bad news constantly to people who really want to go home, or to the ones who really want to join the ship to start work, it is a tremendous pressure. Consequently, not only people on board, but also some of our staff in the office began to burn out.”She adds that the company, at one time, had a dry cargo ship in Poland with a crew member who tested positive, and the ship was ordered to stay put for 30 days. The fact that the entire ship had to be isolated meant that the rest of the crew were not allowed to disembark with the result that one crew member after another became sick. Orsel has also had cases of seafarers performing crew change having to change flights up to four times within Europe, before finally going by bus to Germany to fly home to Manila. “I am so impressed with how all of our crew has dealt with this. They were on board and continued to do their business even at times when their families had problems and they should have been there, when they should have been able to go home,” says Orsel. Helpline and mental health courses To help crew and staff deal with the pressure of their jobs, MF Shipping Group has, over the past year, arranged mental health courses for its office staff, in addition to the programme the company launched for its seafarers two years ago. “We have a team of 65 people here at headquarters, and everybody reacts differently to pressure. Because we are in the shipping industry, we needed to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” says Orsel. The company also started a helpline for seafarers and their families, which they can call anonymously and independently to discuss anything they have concerns about in their native languages. In addition, the company has created a new head office role, that of crew welfare officer. This initiative will continue even after COVID-19 is under control world-wide. The initiatives are important and needed, according to Orsel, as a company can only do its best, but not advance, without support from governments and decisionmakers. “Essentially, local governments lack knowledge about our industry. They are unaware that a lot of our goods come from countries such as China and need to go from A to B to C, and that it takes a huge logistics chain to function,” says Orsel. “Essentially, I do not believe it is lack of willingness to help, but it certainly is ignorance.” Connect with BIMCO Facebook Linkedin YouTube