The safety of sea shipping and the commercially efficient operation of ships depend to a great extent on how the shipping companies organize technical maintenance of their fleets. Aleksandr Dennemark, Technical Superintendent of PAO Sovcomflot, told IAA PortNews about the specifics of his profession and about the process of shaping merchant fleet management.
— Mr. Dennemark, your life and career have been inseparably linked with the sea for over half a century. What influenced your choice of profession?
— Actually, my choice was natural with no agonies of choosing a profession. I was born in Leningrad in 1951 and my life has been connected with the sea since birth. My father was a deep-sea master, my mother worked at a shipyard. My first voyage was at the age of five. Together with my mom we sailed from Murmansk to Arkhangelsk on my father's Liberty-type ship Sevastopol. As a boy, I used to visit ships with my father. The last years of life he worked on an icebreaker, and I had the opportunity to go to sea with him and take part in ice escort operations.
My father's ancestors were from Denmark and Scotland, maritime powers of Europe. They settled in Russia thanks to Peter I who invited my forefather as a navigator. Thus, all the men in the family on the father's side have been in the merchant shipping. I was born and raised in a family of a seafarer. Unlike other people, I had no other vision of the future profession but the maritime one and actually became the successor of the maritime dynasty.
I had no other vision of the future profession but the maritime one
The choice of an educational institution was obvious. However, due to strict eye sight requirements I had to give up the idea of entering the Navigation Department of the Leningrad Higher Engineering Naval School named after Admiral S. O. Makarov (known as Makarovka - Ed.) and opt for the Mechanical Department of the Leningrad Shipbuilding Institute. When I was in my third year, graduates with a shipbuilding diploma fell under a sailing ban, so I immediately transferred to the correspondence department in Makarovka and started working at Baltic Shipping Company as an engine mechanic. I had textbooks with me to study while sailing and to sit exams between voyages.
— What was your first employment experience?
— Over the years of work, there were many ships, and the first one is especially memorable, of course. That was M/V Akademik Krylov bearing this second name from 1946. It was trophy ship built in 1937 at a German shipyard and named Mathias Stinnes. That dual purpose ship was used as a dry cargo transport, as a raider and as a floating base for submarines.
In 1971, I came to the ship which had gone through the war and got excellent plumber and nautical practice there. There were virtually no watch periods without failures or breakdowns of mechanisms, when prompt response and plumber's skills were needed. That made the ship especially memorable. As a fresh hand, I heard numerous salty jokes from older and experienced seafarers about arms growing out of the wrong place. Not willing to listen to their reproaches, I had to learn quickly: to master practical skills, supplementing them with theory. Having graduated in 1974, I continued working for Baltic Shipping Company as a junior and then as a senior mechanic.
— What was further development of your career?
— When the Soviet Union was on the decline and problems began, seafarers started looking for new job opportunities including those in foreign companies. So, in the early 1990s, I came to a crewing company about a job ad. It turned out that my crewmate on M/V Alexander Pushkin, Petr Chernata, was recruiting personnel for Unicom. At that time, it was a young hardly known company established by Sovcomflot for the combined management of its fleet. I was given a tempting offer to hold off on going to sea in a small vessel while waiting for an invitation to the construction site of Panamax container ship instead. Since my recent work was on similar container ships, the offer to supervise the construction and to accept a large vessel was very interesting.
In early December 1992, I arrived at the German shipyard and just a couple of months later, in February, the ship successfully completed sea trials, was loaded and embarked operation on the line. This was the beginning of my career in Unicom. My service on this ship lasted for two years. Container ship Hamburg Senator was awesome. With tears in my eyes I left it in 1994 when I was unexpectedly offered a position of superintendent in Unicom's Cyprus based office of technical management. At that time, the company was actively developing: it was consolidating its fleet and personnel, which contributed to rapid career growth.
Container ship Hamburg Senator was awesome. With tears in my eyes I left it in 1994 when I was unexpectedly offered a position of superintendent
— Was that a key moment in your career?
— Yes, exactly. Initially, the company used to attract foreign specialists with experience in market conditions to work onshore. For example, the Cypriots, Greeks, British worked in the Cyprus office. Some of them did not work at sea but had a tough practice of commercial management of the fleet. When it was the first month of my work, they gave me advice: "You must protect the shipowner's wallet by any means, excluding crime, and you must be prepared for this".
The team of technical management team was gradually expended with specialists from the Soviet commercial fleet, who had practical experience at sea, were technically trained and fluent in English. Such personnel solution created conditions for mutual development. We learned quickly, and the company had the opportunity of fast development and fleet expansion.
— How many ships were under your management?
— At first, my Cypriote colleague and me had five container carriers each. When one of us left for the shipyard the other had 10 ships.
Later, as the technical manager of the entire dry cargo fleet, I had up to 46 different types of ships: from a small timber carrier to Panamax ships. My management team numbered 12 superintendents, five operators, four procurement employees, and a secretary.
In the early 2000s, Sovcomflot set a new development vector. It focused on the transportation of hydrocarbons. The dry cargo fleet was sold. Therefore, in 2005, I decided to continue working with the container and dry cargo fleet in other companies. For the next eight years I worked as a technical director, first in an English private company and then in a Greek one. In 2013, I was invited to Unicom again and I continue to work there to this day.
— Is there a difference the work principles in a private foreign company and in Sovcomflot?
— The key difference between a private company and Sovcomflot is that the individual load on each person is much greater in a private company. The strength of such a structure as Sovcomflot is in its reserves. In case of any breakdown or an accident you do not face the problem on your own. Team work lets resolve issues faster and more efficiently. On the other hand, you should be prepared for a longer approval process.
The strength of such a structure as Sovcomflot is in its reserves - you do not face problems on your own
— You are actually a witness and a participant of the process on creating a technical management system, aren’t you? How were those principles formed globally and in Sovcomflot?
—Sovcomflot is Russia’s largest shipping company today and it is one of the leading players in the global energy shipping market. The company managed to achieve such results particularly thanks to the formation of technical management system, which accumulated the world’s best experience and the Soviet intellectual capital.
It is also important to understand that this process was underway parallel with the formation of a global security system for the commercial marine fleet and revision of international technical requirements for ships.
Sovcomflot’s technical management system accumulated the world’s best experience and the Soviet intellectual capital
When it comes to various approaches to management, whatever you may say, the system of education in Soviet times was strong and good. The technical level of specialists was high allowing for prompt resolving of many issues and quick adjustment to new realities and technical requirements. This was an undeniable advantage. Besides, there was a more serious and systematic approach to organizing of the merchant fleet operations.
The key problem was the limited contact with foreign companies due to the iron curtain. With such an approach, only some groups of people had a direct access to global practices or international exchange. Foreign systems also had their advantages and disadvantages. For example, shipping companies of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Great Britain had a common standard of technical management based on mutual trust and similar national education and culture.
Asian countries which started active development of shipping in 1990s had no common principles of technical management, hence additional risks for commercial companies in shipping.
As for the countries of South Europe: Spain, Italy, Greece – unlike Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Great Britain, applied a slightly different approach. It was focused on individual skills and expedition. Such an organization also posed risks for ship and crews as the approach often implied hiring cheaper crewmembers and operation of ships for a longer time.
In order to coordinate it, the leading management companies have created a pool to develop a safety standard for ship management and the shipping industry. That is how the International Ship Managers Association (ISMA) was established. Companies with a certain standard of quality and safety in fleet management began to join it.
Having seen that initiative, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced the ISM Code (International Ship Management Code), which is called the International Safety Management Code in Russia. Originally numbering 13 paragraphs, that document became the unified one globally. It defined the mandatory set of documents and procedures applicable on shore and on board and ensuring operation of ships according to certain standards with minimized risks for crews, ships, freight and the environment.
Later on, those regulations were expanded with additional environmental protection requirements. Every day, the list of documents and requirements is getting longer. The system is being improved gradually and now it is getting increasingly reminiscent of the one which existed in the USSR Ministry of the Maritime Fleet.
Projections show that by 2065, the Arctic’s navigability will increase so greatly that it could yield new trade routes in international waters giving ships alternatives to the Russian-controlled Northern Sea Route...US study sees new Arctic trade routes opening up