The safety of shipping and the commercially efficient operation of ships depend to a large extent on how shipping companies organize the technical maintenance of their fleets. Aleksandr Dennemark, technical superintendent of PAO Sovcomflot, explained to IAA PortNews the specifics of his profession and the training process of merchant fleet management.
— Mr Dennemark, your life and your career have been inseparably linked to the sea for more than half a century. What influenced your career choice?
— In fact, my choice was natural and I didn’t hesitate to choose a job. I was born in Leningrad in 1951 and my life has been linked to the sea since birth. My father was a captain on the high seas, my mother worked in a shipyard. My first trip was when I was five years old. Together with my mother, we sailed from Murmansk to Arkhangelsk on my father’s Liberty-type ship, Sevastopol. As a child, I used to visit ships with my father. The last years of his life he worked on an icebreaker, and I had the opportunity to go to sea with him and participate 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 ancestor as navigator. Thus, all the men of the paternal family were in the merchant navy. I was born and raised in a family of sailors. Unlike other people, I had no other vision of the future profession than that of maritime and in fact became the successor of the maritime dynasty.
The choice of an educational institution was obvious. However, due to strict sight requirements, I had to give up the idea of entering the navigation department of the Leningrad Higher Naval Engineering School named after Admiral SO Makarov (known as the name of Makarovka – Ed.) and opt for the Leningrad Shipbuilding Mechanical Department. Institute. When I was in my third year, graduates of a shipbuilding degree fell under a sailing ban, so I was immediately transferred to Makarovka’s correspondence department and started working at Baltic Shipping Company as an engine mechanic. I had textbooks with me to study while sailing and take exams between trips.
— What was your first professional experience?
— Over the years of work, there have been many ships, and the first one is particularly memorable, of course. It was the M/V Akademik Krylov bearing this second name from 1946. It was a trophy built in 1937 in a German shipyard and named Mathias Stinnes. This dual purpose vessel was used as a dry cargo transport, a raider and as a floating base for submarines.
In 1971, I arrived on the ship that had survived the war and acquired excellent plumbing and navigation skills. There were practically no standby periods without breakdowns or breakdowns of mechanisms, where prompt intervention and the skills of a plumber were needed. This made the ship particularly memorable. As a new hand, I’ve heard many salty jokes from older, experienced sailors about arms pushing out of the wrong place. Not wanting to listen to their reproaches, I had to learn quickly: master the practical skills, supplementing them with theory. Graduating in 1974, I continued to work for Baltic Shipping Company as a junior and then as a senior mechanic.
— How has your career evolved?
— When the Soviet Union was in decline and the problems began, seafarers began to look for new job opportunities, including in foreign companies. So, in the early 1990s, I came to a crew company for a job offer. It turned out that my teammate on M/V Alexander Pushkin, Petr Chernata, was recruiting staff for Unicom. At the time, it was a young unknown company created by Sovcomflot for the joint management of its fleet. I received a tempting offer not to go to sea in a small ship while waiting for an invitation to the construction site of the Panamax container ship. Since my recent work involved similar container ships, the offer to oversee construction and accept a large vessel was very attractive.
At the beginning of December 1992, I arrived at the German shipyard and a few months later, in February, the ship successfully completed sea trials, was loaded and embarked on the line. This was the start of my career at Unicom. My service on this ship lasted two years. The container ship Hamburg Senator was awesome. With tears in my eyes, I left in 1994 when I was unexpectedly offered a job as a superintendent in Unicom’s technical management office in Cyprus. At this time, the company is actively developing: it is consolidating its fleet and staff, which contributes to a rapid career development.
— Was it a key moment in your career?
– Yes exactly. Initially, the company used to attract foreign specialists with experience of market conditions to work ashore. For example, Cypriots, Greeks, British worked in the Cyprus office. Some of them did not work at sea but had a solid practice in the commercial management of the fleet. When it was the first month of my job, they gave me advice: “You must protect the portfolio of the shipowner by all means, excluding crime, and you must be prepared for it”.
The technical management team gradually expanded with specialists from the Soviet commercial fleet, who had practical experience at sea, were technically trained and spoke fluent English. Such a personal solution created the conditions for mutual development. We learned quickly and the company had the opportunity for rapid development and fleet expansion.
“How many ships were under your command?”
— At the beginning, my Cypriot colleague and I had five container ships each. When one of us left for the shipyard, the other had 10 ships.
Later, as technical manager of the entire dry cargo fleet, I had up to 46 different types of vessels: from small timber carriers to panamax vessels. My management team included 12 superintendents, five operators, four purchasing staff and a secretary.
In the early 2000s, Sovcomflot set a new development vector. He concentrated on the transport of hydrocarbons. The dry cargo fleet has been 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 a private English company, then in a Greek company. In 2013 I was invited back to Unicom and I still work there today.
— Is there a difference the principles of work in a foreign private company and at Sovcomflot?
— The main difference between a private company and Sovcomflot is that the individual burden on each person is much greater in a private company. The strength of a structure such as Sovcomflot lies in its reserves. In the event of a breakdown or accident, you do not deal with the problem on your own. Teamwork solves problems faster and more efficiently. On the other hand, you should be prepared for a longer approval process.
– You are actually a witness and actor in the process of creating a technical management system, isn’t it? How were those principles form worldwide and in Sovcomflot?
—Sovcomflot is now Russia’s largest shipping company and one of the leading players in the global energy transportation market. The company managed to achieve such results not least thanks to the formation of a technical management system, which accumulated the best world experience and Soviet intellectual capital.
It is also important to understand that this process was underway alongside the formation of a global safety system for the commercial maritime fleet and the revision of international technical requirements for ships.
As for the various approaches to management, whatever you say, the education system in Soviet times was strong and good. The technical level of the specialists was high, which made it possible to quickly solve many problems and quickly adapt to new realities and technical requirements. It was an undeniable advantage. Also, there was a more serious and systematic approach to the organization of merchant fleet operations.
The main problem was the limited contact with foreign companies due to the Iron Curtain. With such an approach, only certain groups of people had direct access to global practices or international exchanges. Foreign systems also had their pros and cons. For example, shipping companies in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Great Britain had a common standard of technical management based on mutual trust and similar national education and culture.
Asian countries that began to actively develop shipping in the 1990s did not have common principles of technical management, which posed additional risks for commercial shipping companies.
As for Southern European countries: Spain, Italy, Greece – unlike Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Great Britain, have applied a slightly different approach. It was focused on individual skills and expedition. Such an organization also presented risks to ships and crews, as the approach often involved hiring cheaper crew members and operating ships longer.
In order to coordinate it, the main management companies have created a pool to develop a safety standard for the management of ships and the shipping industry. This is how the International Ship Managers Association (ISMA) was born. Companies with a certain level of quality and safety in fleet management have started to join.
Having seen this 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 consisting of 13 paragraphs, this document has become the unified document worldwide. It has defined all the mandatory documents and procedures applicable on land and on board and guaranteeing the operation of vessels according to certain standards with minimized risks for crews, vessels, cargo and the environment.
Later, these regulations were expanded with additional environmental protection requirements. Every day the list of documents and requirements grows longer. The system is gradually improving and more and more reminiscent of the one that existed in the Ministry of the Sea Fleet of the USSR.