Reaching Qatar in trying times / Maersk Lima – passenger no 1
Day 1,751 since October 10th 2013: 152 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
No – seriously…who on earth has a life like this?
I have always believed in hard work and loyalty. And I also believe in working smart when you can. Getting this far into the Saga has been no piece of cake. And now with yet another new country I smile and think to myself: I’m a little closer to home.
Do you have any idea how much I value having your support? I’m able to draw statistics from the internet and an entry like this one is quickly read by people from all over the world. Some twenty countries are only represented by a single reader while the top countries are usually USA, UK and Denmark in that order. Then last week something unusual happened…Denmark took the first place for unknown reasons? YEAH! Viking power!! Props to my homeland :)
I am still grateful to Nicky who booked me into the Hotel Hilton in Salalah, Oman. He did it for some of his frequent flyer miles. Imagine the irony. It was a good base for my last night before coming onboard the good ship ‘Maersk Lima’. The following day I was waiting for the ships agent to pick me up. I received a call from the agent in which he said he was waiting in the lobby. Once I reached the lobby there was no one there? I waited a while before I called the agent in order to hear where he was? The agent was clearly confused by my call and promised to return for me as soon as possible. What happened was that the agent had met a random American in the lobby and asked him if he was the passenger for ‘Maersk Lima’. This joker said yes and got into the car with the agent? So the poor agent was pretty confused when I called to ask where he was at which point the American laughed and admitted that he wasn’t bound for the vessel. Strange – huh?
Formalities didn’t take long once I reached the port and I was treated well and with kindness by everyone. Once I had been stamped out of Oman we were off to the pier and parked the agent’s car alongside this huge gorgeous ship. The ‘Lima’ part of the ships name gives away that she is an ‘L class’ ship. She measures 299.9 m (983 ft) from one end to the other and is 45.2 m (148 ft) wide. She is a sizeable lady and is capable of carrying 51,991 metric ton or the equivalent of 8,665 African bush elephants. I got onboard and quickly met the ships Master Mr. Alan Haynes from the UK. He’s a great guy with a good sense of humor and I felt welcome right from the start. Now I don’t mean to make the Captain (as the master is also called) sound old or anything but he is certainly an experienced man and has been sailing from before I was born. So you can just imagine the stories he is capable of telling. And fortunately he did not mind sharing them.
Mr. Alan Haynes, Master and Commander of the 'Maersk Lima'
“Hey Thor, I would love to travel on a contain ship. How can I get to do that? Thanks”. Yeah, I get a ton of questions like that on a weekly basis. Such questions rapidly increased back in December 2016 since VICE wrote an article about the Saga, which lead to a wave of click bait articles called: “man travels to every country in the world onboard container ships for free!” Righto! Good luck reaching Switzerland on a ship. I generally don’t mind answering people so please keep the questions coming. However explaining to people that they are highly unlikely to travel onboard a container ship is slightly heartbreaking. I’d just like people to think about it for a second. Why would a shipping line ever be interested in making your gap year slightly more interesting by taking you onboard? I see the appeal to you as an adventurous spirit – but what is in it for the shipping line? They are a business and you traveling onboard is just as unlikely as sleeping in the reception of an office building in the city. There is no incentive. You could get sick onboard, be annoying, bring decease onboard, break something, steal something or fall overboard. As a bare minimum you are generating a lot more paperwork for both the ship and the company. And what do they get out of that? What are you bringing to the table? My friend Niall Doherty wrote an excellent guide about container ship travel so if you are still hell bent on doing it may guide you in the right direction. Some shipping lines have actually made a business out of taking passengers onboard container ships so there’s always that.
Okay, that was a slightly sad beginning so let’s lighten this entry up a bit. Jon, an American whom I met in Rwanda and became friends with, asked about life onboard. He specifically wanted to know about the crew’s nationalities, if they correlate to the company’s nationality and furthermore about the spread of gender. Good question by the way. So Maersk Line is a Danish company and I rarely come across any Danes onboard. I don’t think it’s cost effective as Danish labor is relatively expensive compared to other seafaring nations. However I once sailed onboard ‘Maersk Alabama’ which is under US American flag and then the legislation changes. For that ship it was a requirement that everyone onboard was a USA national. Onboard there’s a division between deck crew and officers. A lot of the A/B’s (able bodied seaman), O/S’s (ordinary seaman) and other lower ranks are from the Philippines, India, Myanmar or Thailand. The high ranking officers are sometimes from European countries but also often from India and the Philippines in my experience. For a while a met a lot of officers from Ukraine and Russia. ‘Maersk Lima’ had 7-8 nationalities onboard with most being from India and the Philippines. There were no women onboard and there rarely are. Life at sea onboard such vessels appears to be a man’s world for now.
It seems to me that the world is moving towards a state of global conscience in relation to climate. There’s certainly a lot of focus on it across the world and the shipping industry is no stranger to the phenomenon. The world is dependent on shipping to a degree which few of us can phantom. Shipping containers are sent south, east, west and north and have been ever since the first one was invented in 1955. So as a natural result of that there are a lot of ships out there releasing a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. Several of the Saga’s most recent countries rely almost entirely on import. If a ship sails slower then it emits less CO2 and it also sails fuel. So that’s a vital part of being more environmentally friendly. There are strict protocols for waste disposal so it’s definitely not these ships that are responsible for all the plastic waste in the ocean. Those were two simple ideas which I’m sure you can relate to. Now try this one: Waste Heat Recovery! The ship has a massive and very powerful engine. In order to get it started you need to blow air into it which is done with a super charger. The super charger is powered by a generator. Then once the engine is running it emits heat through the funnel (chimney) which can then be recycled to power the turbo charger. The turbo charger takes over from the super charger and is now blowing air into the engine in order to optimize the capacity of power. Think about blowing on a fire and see the heat flair up – kind of the same thing. Okay, are you with me thus far? This is pretty standard for all container ships. At this point there is still more heat flowing out of the funnel. So pipes which emit water have been fitted inside the funnel and this is converted into steam by the heat, which heats a small boiler. Now you have energy…but at this point it’s Low Pressure Steam (LPS) which isn’t good for much but it does generate some electricity. Are you still with me? Okay…
The Captains drawing for me. You get it - right?
The good ship ‘Maersk Lima’ has a special trick up her sleeve. If she is going fast enough then the LPS can be recycled and converted into High Pressure Steam (HPS). All of this is still just from heat which would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere through the funnel. The HPS can now drive a power turbine which, if the engine is running fast enough, can generate enough energy to power the ship with electricity. And then you can shut the generators off. Now that’s good for both the environment and for the economy. I went through this with Captain Haynes and the ships Chief Engineer, Santanu Das, who were both very patient with me :) If either of them are reading this then I’m sure they are either banging their heads towards the wall or laughing out loud! Anyway, I did my best to understand and explain and I hope you got the general idea. On a completely different topic the Chief Engineer by the way fixed my Jamaica Red Cross water bottle so that thing is going to be with the Saga for a little while longer.
My cabin onboard.
The next part is easier to understand and really extreme in a cool kind of way! Right, so another way to be environmentally conscience is to carry more cargo onboard the vessel. If you can carry more cargo then you might be able to do with one ship and not two so that’s good for the environment. It’s good for the economy of the company too so there’s plenty of incentive. A rule of thumb is that you need to be able to see the water three ships lengths ahead when you are standing on the bridge. It doesn’t apply everywhere in the world but it is pretty general. Because of this rule there is a limitation to how high you can stack cargo onboard the ship. If you stack it to high then you don’t have the required visibility. So what do you do to optimize the payload? Well…Maersk has some big brains sitting in an office somewhere and they have made calculations in relation to how much taller they could make the accommodation of the ship. The bridge is at the top of the accommodation and if you can elevate the height of the bridge then you alter the line of sight from the bridge to the ocean surface. ‘Maersk Lima’ was originally built in 2011 in Korea. She was built with seven decks plus the navigational bridge at the very top. In 2015 they brought ‘Maersk Lima’ to a shipyard, detached the bridge, lifted it off the ship with a crane, added three extra decks and reattached the bridge on top!! WHAT?!? Yup, that’s what they did. And now she can load 8,700 twenty foot containers which is a lot more than before. The ship however has no need for these extra three decks so they are simply void space. Amazing!
The crew onboard has created a badminton court in a very small part of of all the void space.
Okay now, life for me onboard is good. My accommodation is somewhat equivalent to a three star hotel. I had my own cabin, a bed, a desk, a sofa, a bathroom and a window. There was WIFI onboard but the connection was not strong enough to do much. You could however send and receive text messages. These ships all have a gym, a pool, a crew’s day room, an officer’s day room (games, books, TV), a ships office, a workshop, a hospital, a dining room, a galley (kitchen) and a whole lot of stores for pain, electricity etc. This ship even had a conference room. Meals are served three times a day and the quality depends a lot on the cook. I have never been disappointed and there was plenty of food. If you have Filipinos onboard then karaoke is guaranteed too! :) I absolutely love being onboard. It often feels like my only time off from this never ending project. I have a door I can close. I get fed well three times a day. I can do whatever I want: read, sleep, watch a movie, edit video, go on the bridge, shower for hours…you name it. The water onboard is desalinated straight from the ocean so it’s not like we are going to run out of water. I can only work offline for a few days before I run out of work. And washing clothes, cleaning equipment and repairing stuff usually takes no less than a day. So I have all of that luxury while at the same time knowing that I am moving towards my destination at a pace I cannot change.
Captain Haynes and the Pilot on the starboard wing of the bridge at arrival to Qatar.
But all good things come to an end and eventually I needed to disembark the vessel. That’s good news too though as the destination was a new country and I would be a little closer to home. We reached Doha, Qatar, in the evening so the agent wouldn’t come onboard until the following morning. The next morning I had breakfast, packed my bags and waited around in the ships office for the agent. Meanwhile I spoke with Thirdie, the ships electrician, for a while. He’s an interesting fellow who used to work at a casino but has now sailed the seas for more than ten years. And he’s a brilliant electrician. Maybe the best electrician in the world! Yes, definitely the best electrician on any ship on any ocean!! If you’re wondering what that was about then I’m not going to tell you. At least not until the Saga is over and I’m back home in Denmark. But I will say this: Thirdie helped me out ;)
And that brings us to Qatar. I left the ship around midday and entered Qatar through a brand new port. I had a business visa as that is required for anyone entering on a commercial vessel. Otherwise Qatar actually prides itself in being the most open country in the Gulf and hands visas out on arrival to most. I met Dina in Kuwait who introduced me to Khalid in Qatar. Unfortunately Khalid is now out on a motorcycle adventure so we haven’t had a chance to meet. But Khalid shared info about me in a large group on some social media platform and I have had some twenty people reach out to me since then. Overwhelming!
One of all these people was Salman who insisted on picking me up at the port. I told Salman that I was expecting the agent at 09:00am but that he better wait until I was out and that I would call him. Salman doesn’t roll like that. So I was out of the port around midday as I mentioned and he was there waiting for me. He had been there all morning and he was dressed in a traditional thawb (a long white shirt) over loose pants. He also wore a loose headdress which is known as a ghutra. He looked pretty classy! The Jaguar parked behind him added to the image that I had now reached the richest country in the world based on GDP per capita. Salman is however no snob. In fact he’s quite the opposite and a really cool guy too. Salman likes to travel and has been to a whopping 52 countries. Often on adventures or through sports competitions. He has represented Qatar in several disciplines but has now focused on snow adventures such as cross country skiing. Say what? Yes, Qatar might be flat, dry and nearly tree-less…but that is not going to stop Salman. He’s been on skis on both Svalbard and in Greenland and now he is looking towards Antarctica.
No, the lamp posts are not actually gold...although they could be ;)
The Jaguar rolled us into Doha which is Qatar’s capital city. It’s an impressive city which does look a lot like what you get when money is no object. The architecture of several buildings is just spectacular. As an example they are building a desert rose shaped museum right now which just looks…wow! You’ve heard of the artificial palm islands in Dubai. Well in Doha they have ‘The Pearl’. It houses some 12,000 people and is an impressive manmade island of luxury for the upper class. The perhaps most well-known building in Doha must be the Museum of Islamic Art. It’s something! I had the chance to go and visit it a few days after I arrived in Doha and it’s just magnificent. The collection is mindboggling and every item has been displayed to perfection. It’s a collection of fairytale like art from the Arabic and Persian world and it instantly became one of my all-time favorite museums in the world. The museum itself was designed by the prize winning architect I.M Pei and stands like a piece of art itself.
It’s just impressive and yet another testimony to human kinds achievement. Doha I mean. Because when you are in between the tall well-kept buildings, the parks, the pieces of art that sprinkles the city and the dust-less perfect roads…then it’s downright impossible to guess that you are in a desert. Salman spent the afternoon together seeing all sorts of places. We visited the stables, the education city, the National Library, the Corniche and as the evening approached he dropped me off at The Pearl. My life has lately been fairly different to how it used to be within the Saga. If you remember then I’ve slept on the ground a few times, I’ve gone four days without food, I’ve gone three days without sleep, I’ve eaten things you wouldn’t even approach and I have lived in some of the most dodgy neighborhoods you could imagine. I’m still on a $20 USD/day budget but it’s sort of fictive by now as I don’t even have that. I have spent my own money and borrowed more. I actually don’t have any money. And yet I must say that life has been pretty good lately. I stayed with Iain and Juanita at their expat apartment in Dubai, then I had a few nights at Anantara’s five star Al Jabal Al Akhdar resort in Oman (see the new video), then I did sleep in a bus and have a somewhat interesting time in Yemen…but only to return to the Hilton in Salalah, Oman (thanks Nicki). Then I had a few nights onboard the ‘Maersk Lima’ before being picked up in a Jaguar and driven to The Pearl in Doha. And as my host in Qatar said to me: “perhaps this actually shows the part of the world you are in now quite well’. That is quite true…because the Gulf is certainly a special place on our planet.
A small part of The Pearl.
My host in Qatar is Morten from Denmark. He lives in Doha with his wife Regine and their baby boy Adam. However these days Morten is the only one home so there is plenty of space in the apartment and I have been told to feel at home. Morten is a really nice guy who took interest in the Saga many years ago and has been following since April 2014 so that’s more than four years now. Funny that we finally got to meet and bliss that he’s such an easygoing guy. When you look at The Pearl then you might gather that it’s a place full of people who are too good for the rest of us. That just isn’t Morten at all. Morten is very approachable and easy to talk too. He is an expat in Qatar and works a lot so that pays the bills and as Danes it has long ago been beaten into us that nobody is better than anyone else. So it’s just really easygoing and we have had some great dinner conversations.
Sooo...Morten just treated me sushi at a super cool restaurant last night :)
I had a chance to meet with the Qatar Red Crescent Society. They were established in 1978 which is the year I was born. So in many ways it adds extra layers to the experience of learning about their humanitarian involvement. Because all which they have achieved, they have literally achieved within my lifetime. Qatar became country number 152 for the Saga but it is country number 150 with a National Society. There is no Red Cross in the Vatican and no Red Crescent in Oman. I left Denmark in 2013 which was the 150th anniversary of the Red Cross. So there is lots of correlation in regards to this visit. Is it a coincidence?? Yes of course it is – but it is fun to play with numbers.
This is only 1 of 6 Health Centers operated by QRCS.
The QRCS is really something special. They are not just a bank account but they are financially strong. Everyone I spoke with was alert and sharp. Both volunteers and staff appeared highly motivated and besides their national involvement they operate in some thirty countries around the world. In their international efforts they strive to be an implementing partner and do so which lots of knowhow and competence. Yeah, I was impressed. They asked me to make a presentation before some 30-40 volunteers and staff members, which I was happy to do. And looking back I have only done that twice before: Kenya Red Cross and The Swiss Red Cross. And yet I have done 63 public speaking events since I left home. You see…I like that about QRCS: they had an opportunity and took it. In my opinion far too many opportunities are lost around the world every day. Therefore not losing opportunities is always a good sign for me.
I met many nice people throughout the day which continued at the QRCS Workers Health Center. That place is really impressive! So there are more expats in Qatar than Qatari’s. That’s just like in Kuwait and the UAE. And there are lots of ongoing building projects. Perhaps even more so now in preparation to the 2022 World Cup which is going to be held in Qatar. The workers are typically from India, Bangladesh and the Philippines and this RC facility is purely to benefit those expats. And what a facility it is!! It includes ten different clinics: General Practice, Internal Medicine, Ophthalmology, Ear, Nose & Throat, Dental, Dermatology, Endocrinology, Pulmonology, Orthopedics, and Non-Communicable Chronic Diseases. In addition to that there are 11 services: 24-Hours Urgent Cases Department, Pharmacy, Laboratory, X-ray & Ultrasound, Health Literacy Center, Dressing Room, Minor Procedure room, Audiometry, Observation Room, Isolation Room and Social Worker. All of this is offered to the workers FOR FREE!! And this center treats more than 1,500 workers PER DAY!! And the QRCS has SIX centers!! And I’m telling you it was state of the art facilities. The doctors, nurses and staff were top notch. It was overall just very impressive. And yet another one of the gazillion things that you’ll find under the RC umbrella.
I was tested for diabetes and scored excellent! My score was 97 ;)
The movement has been tested and tried throughout more than 150 years and is today found in 191 countries across the world. If you have some spare change then I’d say that donating to the RC is a solid bet that your money will reach those who need it. And playing with numbers again each of these 191 National Societies merely add up to 0.5% individually…much like your country is about 0.5% of the Worlds countries. The coordinator of my visit was Dr. Sabrina Meddour, International Humanitarian Movement Senior Coordinator, who’s a very bright woman of French-Algerian decent who grew up in France. We had lunch together afterwards and followed up with some very interesting theological and philosophical discussions which ended up lasting hours. Excellent brain exercise and good company.
These are the first horses I have got to see in the Gulf. The fabled Arabic horses :)
I had a chance to ride the bus in Doha. I was the only passenger :)
Qatar certainly knows its history back to the days of pearl fishing about 100 years ago. But actually early human habitation goes 50,000 years back and early civilization has influenced Qatar since 8,000 years ago.
As you may have gathered by now this blog can go on forever. So I’ll bring it to an end now by saying that I think Qatar is a super cool and very interesting country with lots of things to see and do. They held some 100 sporting events within a year in 2015 or 2016. I’m not going to get into the politics of their current situation which has resulted in a blockage and the nation being ostracized in the region. You can do your own research and make up your own mind. There are plenty of opinions and “truths” to go around. However you should know that reaching Qatar without flying is quite an achievement these days. There are no ferries here and their only land border is with Saudi Arabia and that border is currently sealed. Regionally Qatar is still on good terms with Iran and Oman. I used to live and work in Greenland many years ago. Greenland has most of its fresh produce flown in and if there are harsh weather conditions then a town might just be without fresh supplies for a week or two. And everyone just sort accepts that it is how it is. As a result I remember a time when we couldn’t get milk for a while and then we just went on about life without milk. Qatar was unable to get fresh milk now during the blockage so they all accepted that, knew that there was nothing they could do about it and went on with their life…JUST KIDDING! Qatar imported 4,000 cows, now has a farm and are producing their own fresh milk!!! Because that’s how you roll when you are the world’s richest country ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - closer to home - 51 more to go!!
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Once Upon A Saga