MV “Tuvalu Chief” – passenger no. 1 (reaching Samoa)

Day 3,235 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

Progress is a wonderful thing


We have once again joined a Swire Shipping vessel. Swire has been tremendously supportive ever since I met with them in Singapore. It’s wonderful to have support here in life when we need it.

Last week’s entry: I explored the lesser-known interior of Fiji

Progress! It is an amazing feeling. Whatever you might be trying to accomplish you need to feel that you are heading somewhere: saving money, losing weight, learning a language, learning to play an instrument, finishing an education, searching for a job, etc. That list goes on forever! Less than 300 people have managed to reach every country in the world. More than 500 have been to space and more than 5,000 have stood on top of Mount Everest. So far, nobody has ever reached every country in an unbroken journey completely without flying. But we are getting close.


Ms. Vasenai Bulou from the Port of Suva, and I at the South Gate :)

Nothing beats that feeling of joining a container ship which is set to take the Saga to a new country! It is an immense privilege to be able to join a working ship as a guest, and the good ship Vanuatu Chief was set to become the 30th! What privilege we have had over the years. Having been underway for eight years and ten months, and having covered more than 334,000km (200,000mi) we are finally inching our way closer to the end. What a feeling that is!! Mountains and oceans lie ahead which need to be crossed. The red tape seems endless. The COVID-19 pandemic remains a wrench in the machinery. However, progress is progress :)


Mr. Tevita Tinani from Swire Shipping in Suva guided me to the ship. Just for the record: I wore full PPE (including a hardhat) and only switched with my hat for a brief moment in this photo. Safety is important and a top priority for Swire Shipping.

The good ship Vanuatu Chief is a beautiful ship! She measures 199.91m (656ft) overall which makes her the largest ship I have joined for several years. She can carry 2,118 twenty-foot-containers (TEU), which is an impressive capacity within the small pacific countries. But it is only 10% of what the worlds largest ships can carry. It is because she is a feeder vessel and meant to connect the smaller ports which large oceangoing vessels cannot fit into. The keel was laid on October 16th 2013 which was six days after I left home. On that day the Saga reached Calais in France, our 6th country without flying. On March 28th 2014 the good ship was delivered. Yes! It only took five months to build her!! On March 28th 2014 the Saga had reached Greenland: our 40th country without flying. Vanuatu Chief is fitted with four cranes and a 13,560 @105 rpm Wartsila 6RT-FLEX58T-D TIER II diesel engine pushes her forward. That kind of information, the engine stuff, still doesn’t really compute with me – but the engine is the heart of the ship and the guys in the engine room are all over it :)


I joined in Suva on August 5th and we departed on August 7th. We would have left on the 6th but something I have never experienced before happened: a container collapsed! The first shipping containers were put into use in 1956 and that revolutionized the transportation of cargo. Containers are amazing and tested rigorously. If you want then check out “container drop test” on YouTube. Containers are constructed with a strong frame which makes it possible to stack them on top of each other. Yet, sometimes the structural integrity has been compromised and a container can collapse under the immense pressure from above. I’ve never heard about it before – but it happened to a container deep within the hull of Vanuatu Chief and brought cargo operations to a standstill. It isn’t straight forward to remove a damaged container so it caused some delay. But eventually it was removed and cargo operations could continue. I didn’t see the damaged container but heard that the cargo inside (laundry detergent) wasn’t damaged at all. Our departure was further delayed as we waited for the replacement container to arrive.


The bridge (wheel house) is massive on Vanuatu Chief! 


The good ship has a great gym onboard. I'm fond of the treadmill. Vanuatu Chief used to be known as Szechuen.

While we were still along side at the Port of Suva, I had a chance to get acquainted with some of the crew as well as the facilities onboard. I’m grateful to Captain Vimar for welcoming me onboard. He is from Sri Lanka and commands an amazing crew which is comprised of seven different nationalities: Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Thailand, China, Fiji, Philippines, and Tuvalu. What a line up! Captain Vimar and I have had a great deal of good conversation onboard. He has been a captain for fifteen years and carries a lot of experience with him. The Chief Officer is from Ukraine. A really nice guy and my first impression was: “Wow he looks cool!” The sides of his head have been shaved and he carries a long-braided ponytail from a thick set of hair. He also has a pointy beard and a strong physical build. He looks like a proper Viking straight out of the popular TV-series with Ragner Lothbrok. The Chief Engineer and most of the engine room is from China while the Deck Officers are from Sri Lanka and Thailand. From the moment I stepped onboard I sensed that the mood was good. And the good ship herself has an impressive design. This was going to be a good cross over.


My cabin! It doesn't get any better than this! :)

I was given a large and comfortable cabin on E-deck which is just below the bridge. My cabin had everything I needed: a bed, a couch, a coffee table, a desk, an office chair, two windows, a closet, a large mirror, a small refrigerator, and a well-designed toilet/bathroom. As such I was able to have my first warm shower in twelve days. It’s not Fiji that doesn’t offer warm showers…it was the budget. Colonial Lodge (which is no longer a guesthouse) doesn’t have warm showers and the places I stayed at in the interior of Fiji also didn’t have them. Luke warm was the best I got which can be enough on a warm day. Nah – I had entered the good life onboard the good ship, with three warm meals a day, no insects (ants, mosquitos, cockroaches, spiders etc.), a clean comfortable bed, air-condition, access to a gym, a lounge with movies and games, a great crew, and 1gb of internet/week.


Chief Cook Perez and our Steward Arone took good care of us. The logo reads Swire's motto: "Esse quam videri" which means "To be, rather than to seem".

If you have been following the Saga long enough then you are well aware that seafarers hold a special place in my heart. I have several times mentioned that they are some of the purest people I know of and I truly enjoy traveling onboard container ships. It is almost like a vacation from the project as there are few distractions and three important elements are taken care of: accommodation, meals, and transportation. At sea I feel like I have plenty of time. On land I feel stressed. While on land it is always a race to secure the required paperwork and transportation to move forward: bureaucracy and logistics. Communication with the Red Cross, meeting with them, promoting the humanitarian work – it all adds up. Speaking engagements, interviews, writing articles, writing the Friday Blog, managing a sizable social media, doing research, networking, exploring where I am in the world, creating content, small talk with locals, pleasing project partners, reading emails, weeding out scammers, coordinating fiscal elements with the project team, being in a long-distance relationship, videocalls and staying in touch with family and friends – yes, it all adds up. And you can’t escape that you also need to eat, sleep, shower, exercise, do laundry etc. My goodness it’s good to get a simi-break onboard a nice comfortable container ship once in a while.


Taking a final look at YWAM Koha.

Our ETD (estimated time of departure) from Suva was set at 16:00hrs on August 17th. The familiar rumbling of the powerful engine became present 30-minutes before. The sun was still up and I could see the good ship YWAM Koha at anchorage. I wonder what might be causing their delay to head out and provide care to Fiji’s isolated islands? YWAM Koha was the ship which returned the Saga to Fiji and it was fairly unique for me to be able to look at her as we departed Fiji onboard the much larger Vanuatu Chief. The pilot left us just before we reached the outer reef which surrounds Suva. Once we were clear of the reef the elements took over and it became noticeable that we were no longer stable alongside at port. We left rather light, which means the good ship was high in the water. As such swell and wind is felt more compared to a heavily loaded ship. The sun sat and we were on our way. First stop Nuku’alofa in Tonga, and then we would continue to our destination: Apia, Samoa!


If the engine room is the heart of the ship then the bridge must be the brains. And away we go...

There was very little rolling (side to side) as we crossed the ocean between Fiji and Tonga. Only a few degrees at most. But there was a fair bit of wind as well as pitching (front to back / bow to aft) which at times generated some impressive water spray at the bow. Apart from the pitching there was also a general shaking movement of the ship which had me wonder if I would get seasick or not? Fortunately, I didn’t. I rarely do. Rolling is usually no problem at all and can even be fun. Pitching is something else but also usually no problem. Yawing can be a quick path to seasickness. All three combined and I might need to pop a few pills.


Sometimes when the bow pitches forward it results in a spectacular effect.

My alarm woke me up at 07:15am on August 8th as it had done every day. I looked out the window and could see land. On ships the circular “window” is usually known as a porthole. However, my cabin had two large rectangular windows. I’m not sure if they are still referred to as portholes? Anyway, Nuku’alofa (capital of Tonga) was visible outside. We had not quite come alongside at the port yet. And it was very clear we were not going to fit as the jetty was a lot shorter than the length of Vanuatu Chief (nearly half the length). Business as usual for Captain Vimar. The Kingdom of Tonga is a country we have yet to visit within the Saga. Tonga has opened for tourism but only for arrivals by air. I’ve been notified that they plan to open up for sea arrivals in October, but I hope to get permission to arrive ahead of that. Who knows if I’ll get it? All it takes is one person (the right person) to make it happen. That is how it always is. From the ship Tonga looked tropical and flat. Industrial ports rarely offer the most charming first impressions of a country but I could see some charm hiding just behind the port. We have the necessary support to enter Samoa. An official invitation from government as well as passage granted by Swire Shipping’s management. Wonderful!! That is the kind of support we need to secure the much-needed progress. And for Samoa we have just that. It is a short crossover from Tonga to Samoa: eta Apia August 21st. I can’t wait to get there!! :)


A tired man overlooking Nuku'alofa - the capital of Tonga.

Interestingly enough, on arrival to Tonga, there was complete separation between land and the ship. The crew was certainly not permitted to leave the ship and the agent was not permitted to come onboard. The agent could not even hand over a simcard or any paperwork. Yet, stevedores and the pilot were permitted to come onboard. I'm not sure I follow the logic in allowing airplane passengers to enter a country but not those who arrive by sea? If anything, I would argue that those arriving by sea are much safer from a COVID-19 perspective, as they have more space, have access to fresh air, have been onboard for several days before arriving, have tested negative before joining, and should they carry the virus - then it would be detectable after multiple days at sea. But perhaps there is something I do not know. I am after all constantly learning something new. 



I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

Hi Res with Geoop


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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - happy to be on another Swire vessel!

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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