A special guest on board

Published by Jesper Toft Madsen on 21 September 2018

Although the fundamentals of sailing remain the same, seafarers from Hamburg Süd are facing many changes as they join the Maersk fleet. Colleagues have paid them a visit to ensure a smooth integration – one of this year’s top priorities for A.P. Moller - Maersk. Chief Engineer John Broholm jumped out of Maersk’s fleet rotation to join the Hamburg Süd vessel, Cap San Augustin as an onboard buddy for two to three weeks.

15360_MaerskPOST_nr2_2018_28_coatedChief Engineer John Broholm onboard the Cap San Augustin as an on-board buddy: “It’s a very fine and well-functioning ship and the crew is eager to learn." Photo: Christian Bruch

“We are sailors. Our job is to bring cargo safely from A to B while taking care of ourselves and the environment around us.”

When Maersk Post asks Captain Uwe Köhler how he has experienced joining Maersk, he delivers a straightforward response:

“There’s a lot of extra paperwork and regulations – added work you could say. But a vessel is a vessel, water is water. Sailing hasn’t changed.”

To ease the transition for vessel crews, captains and chief engineers from Maersk Line have literally onboarded all Hamburg Süd vessels as an extra capacity and introduced them to Maersk’s way of working. And for good reason.

In the past few months, 44 Hamburg Süd-owned vessels have been transferred to the Maersk Line fleet. The vessels are now sailing under Danish and Singaporean flags, enabling Maersk Line to handle its joint fleet in an aligned, simple and efficient way which ensures consistency and represents a significant competitive advantage.

The Maersk way

Uwe Köhler, a seasoned German seafarer, has spent 39 years at Hamburg Süd. With the Cap San Augustin resting in a Hamburg dry dock, he has probably witnessed more changes during the first weeks of April than in his whole career with the German shipping line.

The 9,800 TEU container ship was reflagged on 1 April. For Hamburg Süd seafarers, sailing under a new flag and Maersk’s compliance processes bring a range of changes – from signing new employment contracts to using different IT systems and adopting new practical procedures.

Therefore, the crew has had a special guest on board. Chief Engineer John Broholm jumped out of Maersk Line’s fleet rotation to join the Cap San Augustin as an onboard buddy for two to three weeks, becoming the crew’s go-to person and introducing them to the Maersk way.

“It’s a very fine and well-functioning ship and the crew is eager to learn. However, the change process is huge, and I can help make sure that crew members don’t have to spend their rest time on new tasks. In this way, we can make the integration happen more smoothly for everyone,” says Broholm.

Investing in personal relations

To successfully integrate Hamburg Süd is one of this year’s core priorities for A.P. Moller - Maersk. Taking 44 senior seafarers out of regular rotation to help introduce their new colleagues to the fleet sends a strong signal that Maersk means business, says Tanuj Luthra, Head of Fleet Operations at Maersk Line:

“The integration demands a tremendous effort on both sides, and the importance of the personal connection between seafarers should not be underestimated.”

While in dry dock, the crew is busy doing maintenance work at the service yard, such as cleaning, paint jobs and repairs. This means that the captain and his buddy have spent most of their time together on IT systems, learning how to perform documentation and reporting, manning as well as online training.

Köhler’s first impression of Maersk is influenced by the fact that Hamburg Süd captains now carry more administrative responsibility – a natural consequence of becoming part of the world’s largest shipping line, but also a part of the job that rarely feels rewarding for natural-born sailors.

“It takes time to learn about Maersk and its culture, and we want to do our best. Two years from now, these changes will be forgotten because we’re all seafarers and we’ll find the best and easiest way together.” 

Hamburg Süd seafarers are experiencing a shift in the way they communicate with colleagues on shore – from ship management support based in one city with one person covering most of the process to more specialised teams at several locations, each supporting different parts of the process.

“More touchpoints and standardisation are necessary in a company of our size because we want to offer the same high level of service to our customers globally. I recognise that this can be difficult at first, however, we have chosen to do things in an aligned way, no matter the location, so that our fleet remains scalable and flexible, and so we can offer seafarers opportunities across the entire fleet,” explains Tanuj Luthra.


The two seafarers, Captain Uwe Köhler and Chief Engineer John Broholm, expect the value of the buddy network to only increase with time, based on the personal relations they have built. Photo: Christian Bruch

Network of seafarers

The captain appreciates Maersk’s investment in bringing experienced seafarers on board as part of wider vessel support.

“The solution is not cheap, but I think it’s worth it. If an officer needs to know how to register rest and overtime, he has someone to ask no matter if it’s 8 in the morning or 10 at night. John has been wonderful to work with, and it’s not just him – the whole fleet is helping us.”

As part of the support programme, buddies have formed a network, initially via instant messaging on WhatsApp, where Hamburg Süd crews can seek advice from their Maersk Line colleagues.

“I have many years of experience as an engineer, but only just realised how much a captain needs to do besides sailing,” says John Broholm. “There are limits to what I can teach Uwe, and we’re already benefiting from a huge network of captains, engineers, officers and electricians sharing guidelines and tips.”

15360_MaerskPOST_nr2_2018_30_coatedThe Cap San Augustin resting in a Hamburg dry dock. Photo: Christian Bruch

Extended family

The two seafarers expect the value of the network to only increase with time, based on the personal relations they have built.

“Other Maersk colleagues have joined this vessel already,” says Broholm.

Both he and the captain share an ambition with many of their colleagues to try new ships, meet people and see different ports.

“I expect people to blend in even more and become one family with time. People from Maersk have shown a real interest in us, and we have learned a lot from each other already,” Köhler adds.

Besides supporting the hands-on integration of seafarers, the buddy programme has acted as a platform for knowledge-sharing and identifying best practices. These will be evaluated, and the most valuable lessons will be implemented across the joint fleet – in other words, combining the best of both worlds.