With today’s tight schedules, modern technology and communications it’s very easy to look at life on the sea purely as a business, but for Captain Gerhard Antony Ijssel de Schepper it’s a calling.
As the son of a seafarer, the romance of the seas hasn’t lost its allure and like his colleague, Captain Atul Baijal, the excitement and challenges of being the Captain for one of Maersk Line’s most important class of vessels – the WAFMAX, is as thrilling as ever.
Due to their unique design, WAFMAX (or West Africa MAX) vessels are ideally suited to the West African market. The ships are 250 metres long with a draught of 13.5 metres, the maximum size allowable in West African ports. As they are equipped with on board cranes, the WAFMAX allow for more flexibility and can service ports without standing cranes.
Having been a Captain for over a decade, Captain Gerhard has overseen the region’s development. ‘Twenty years ago you didn’t know when you could enter the port, when you had to leave or how long it would take to unload the cargo. But now with APM terminals in Africa and the local infrastructure developments its better regulated and more secure’ said Captain Gerhard.
‘But it’s still nowhere near the standard of Europe or Asia’ Captain Atul is quick to point out. Citing the sometimes imprecise loading and the effect it can have on the draught of a ship.
Given their unique position as frontline overseers of West African trade, even eternal optimists such as Captain Gerhard can’t help but notice the discrepancies between import and export volume. ‘It used to be that the region exported a lot of coffee, cacao and cotton, but these days there is not a lot of outbound cargo’ according to Captain Gerhard. ‘But with Nigeria’s oil production there will be an increase in exports’ said Captain Gerhard after a brief moment of reflection.
To add further dynamism to an already complex market, Captain Atul points out that there are a number of factors that are symptomatic of working in West Africa. A shift in piracy from east to west, Ebola and stowaways driven by socio-economics are all factors that WAFMAX captains must contend with.
‘But’ says Captain Gerhard with a wry smile, ‘I think I like it. It keep you sharp, you feel the adrenaline and there’s never a dull moment. Every day presents new challenges and no two days are the same. I tried an office job once, I couldn’t stay away from the seas.’