Reaching Sri Lanka onboard MV Maersk Gironde – passenger no. 1

Day 3,501 since October 10th 2013: 202 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).

Maersk – All The Way


Maersk is a Danish shipping and logistics company founded in 1904. Once Upon A Saga has a unique connection to Maersk which began on October 10th 2013 and continues until this day

Last week’s entry: The final push – off to the penultimate county

There are days where I wonder how much my mind can take and how come I have not broken down with stress so far. The workload has been enormous for many years and the environment has rarely been healthy. People have long wanted to know if I was going to fly back home from the Maldives (final country) or if I was going to travel home over land and sea? Until recently I have not known the answer to that question myself. In 2020 something near impossible became impossible for a while. Since 2022 it has for the most part been an uphill battle in which I have been clawing my way from one country to the next. But on March 28th 2023 I received an unexpected email from Dubai. It was sent by Mr. Mukesh at Maersk in Dubai, UAE. The first line read: “We are happy to inform that we have the necessary approvals in place for your journey from Singapore-Colombo (MSK fleet), Colombo-Maldives-Colombo (MSS Fleet) & Colombo- Mediterranean (MSK fleet)”. That sentence changed my entire mindset! From one moment to next the path ahead was clear. Not only to the final country in the world…but All The Way home.


Crossing the border from Singapore to Malaysia.

I love Singapore! I love Hong Kong even more but I haven’t seen Hong Kong for a while. A week ago I woke up in Singapore having had about 2.5 hours of sleep, packed my duffel bag as I have done it thousands of times, and made my way down to the transport which Maersk Singapore had arranged for me. I was obviously sleep deprived and my energy levels were low. It had been a busy week and while I truly enjoy the speaking engagements, they leave me drained afterwards. The transfer was to take me through Tuas Checkpoint and across the Second Link Bridge to Malaysia. The good ship Maersk Gironde was departing from Tanjung Pelepas the same day and I had to meet immigration at 11:00am. It was a very easy border crossing. I did not even need to get out of the car. The driver dropped me off at Port of Tanjung Pelepas and Maersk in Singapore quickly arranged for one of their Malaysian colleagues to escort me to Maersk’s port office: where I was given lots of coffee!! :) They even treated me to a meal. Around 11:00am Mr. Hisyam, the agent, showed up to bring me through immigration and customs. I had hoped I would have had a chance to visit Joergen at the Danish Seamen’s Club at the port…but I was barely alive. Once I joined the good ship I was shown to my cabin and told to wait for my familiarisation of the ship. I waited, and waited, and waited…then 3rd officer Kumar called me and we went through the familiarisation. I returned to my cabin and passed out for a few hours. That evening I still had a podcast interview with Philippines Global Explorers (PGE). The interview ran late and we finished after we had set out to sea as my 4g simcard generated internet went from four bars, to three, to two, to one…


Sleeping safely in my cabin knowing that the seafarers are professionals and that we are heading in the right direction. Hang on a sec! Who took the photo??


Navigating through the busy Malacca Strait.

We left Tanjung Pelepas on the evening of May 5th. The same day as the Director General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced the global health emergency of Covid-19 over. I really enjoyed be back onboard with Maersk! I’m Danish. They are Danish. That is already a special connection. The last time we we’re onboard with Maersk was from Salalah to Port Said back in September 2018 when we joined Gjertrud Maersk. It was Maersk that connected us with Pacific International Lines (PIL) and Swire Shipping. So, while we haven’t sailed with Maersk for years they have helped facilitate. The good ship Maersk Gironde was delivered in 2002 which made her 21-years of age. She was built well at a shipyard in Korea. Captain Rushan Athachy is Sri Lankan and who would be more fitting to take us to Sri Lanka? He had his wife and two lovely children onboard with him. Most of the crew was from India and our Chief Engineer was from Saint Peterburg, Russia. There’s kind of an elephant in the room these days when I meet Russians. Our Chief Engineer was however really nice and we completely avoided speaking about that elephant. Sometimes it’s good to keep conversations on a human level.


Onboard with Captain Rushan Athachy - my Sri Lankan captain :)

I had some visa issues I needed to deal with but fortunately Maersk provided unlimited internet to the entire crew. The speeds were even okay most of the time. Sometimes you get interference from weather or the ship reaches an area with low satellite coverage. I could mostly download a 12-14mB news podcast in a few minutes. The internet came in handy to solve the visa issues. I had applied for a tourist visa but it turned out that Sri Lankan immigration was not going to let me into the country from a container ship unless I had a business visa. I applied for the business visa but was informed that I first had to cancel the tourist visa. Somehow this sounds straight forward but it was enormously time consuming. Fortunately, it all worked out.


Back on another treadmill sporting my new mCares t-shirt which was gifted to me by the Maersk team in Singapore.

One day took the next onboard. It was a relatively short voyage of five days. I enjoyed being onboard an older and well-constructed ship. It has its charms. The shipping industry was different two decades ago and so were the ships. We had some heavy rain showers and some lightning and thunder. But the good ship stayed stable and there wasn’t much rolling or pitching to speak of.


When the weather didn't permit for our BBQ/party to take place outside we had it inside. Nothing stops a party onboard. Maersk has strict zero alcohol procedures so the beers were non-alcoholic. 

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Back when Maersk Gironde first sat out to sea there would have been more Danish seafarers. Most of the Danish signs had been taken down but I managed to spot some, which tell a tale of a time which once was.


In a collaboration with Maersk we did a Q&A. To be continued :)

From Malaysia we made it out the Malacca Strait, south of the Andaman Sea, south of the Bay of Bengal and across the Indian Ocean to the Pearl of the Orient. What a pleasant nickname. I’m grateful to the crew onboard for treating me with much kindness. Maersk Gironde became the 36th container ship I have travelled onboard and as such I may have sailed with around 700 seafarers over the years. They are indeed a special breed.


Fair winds and following seas to the Maersk Gironde Team. It was a pleasure to sail with them. 

We reached Colombo late at night on May 9th but I opted to stay another night onboard and disembark on the 10th. The transport picked me up a little after 09:00am and brought me through the Marine Division Customs and later on immigration. I had some waiting time on a chair and could sit and observe my surroundings. The port area was surprisingly green. Effort had clearly been put into arranging flowerpots of various sizes with plants of various sizes all over the port. A nice touch to the otherwise steel and concrete environment of most industrial ports. Before we left the port area, I observed several historical buildings. One of them had the following written in large letters: “ESTE 1854. WALKER SONS & CO.” Sri Lanka is rich in history and culture. Not just the last few hundreds of years but several thousands of years.


Walker Sons & Co. in the back.

That same day I checked into a nice AirBNB apartment two days ahead of Mike Douglas, Salomon TV filmmaker (and friend). He is set to arrive today (Friday). Mike wanted me to buy a few power adapters, I needed to get a simcard, I was hungry and needed a meal, and I wanted to exchange some Singapore dollar into Euro. I had a call with Sam from Maersk’s HQ in Denmark an hour later. Could I accomplish these four things in 60 minutes? Optimistically I thought yes. But that is not the kind of country Sri Lanka is. I only got the simcard (which took 40 minutes) before we had the call. I did manage to secure the power plugs and a meal that day. But the exchange of money was harder than I imagined. Perhaps because of Sri Lankas recent history. In fact, Sri Lanka has gone through quite a few rough patches since at least the mid-80s. You wouldn’t think it once you come and meet the people. They are humble, kind, proud (with good reason), smiles come easy, they value beauty, and they love a spicey dish. Sure, some things are a bit slow…but perhaps the rest of the world is moving too fast anyway. I’m sure I can exchange the money – but not on any streetcorner. I just need to make my way to an exchange and that is quickly done by ordering a tuk-tuk through Uber. That same day Maersk’s Country Manager for Sri Lanka, Mr. Nikhil D’Lima, had invited me to speak at the office before some 30-energetic employees. We had a good time and afterwards six of us headed out for dinner at Nuga Gama which had an extraordinary setting and some delicious traditional Sri Lankan dishes. I was warned about how spicy Sri Lankan food can be and have been working my way up to it for months so I did okay :)


Don't ask me what all of this was called. But it was uhm good!!

The evening ended with a videocall with ultra-wifey. Good to see her face and hear her voice again. Well, the evening didn’t actually end there. Because during the evening I had been notified that immigration in the Maldives had reservations regarding my planned arrival onboard Maldives State Shipping’s (MSS) good ship MSS Graphene. It never seems to get any easier – does it? Well, I have met many good people over the years so I reached out to my friend Mr. Steve Felder and to Mr. Freddy Svane, the Ambassador to the Royal Danish Embassy in Delhi, India. They both supplied me with contacts in Maldives and I began working on a solution. It was another late night.


Welcome to our penultimate country. The Lotus tower in the back is quickly becoming an iconic building in Colombo.

Thank goodness for Rasmus! He’s the son of Ross Energy CEO Lars Andersen. Rasmus is helping out with social media and replying or reacting to comments on facebook and Instagram which has been going bonkers since we reached Tuvalu in January. The traffic is overwhelming and while I still create the content, I mostly leave the comments to Rasmus who’s obviously doing an amazing job. He’s a lot more polite, kind, and has more patience than me. Good on you Rasmus!! Keep it up. Ross Energy has been backing the Saga since day one and I look forward to high-fiving everyone back home later this year. The Saga wouldn’t have made it far without support. Support from the project partners as well as from all the kind people I have encountered along the way.


Thursday came and I met up with the Sri Lanka Red Cross which much like Sri Lanka became the penultimate country, then became the penultimate National Society. Are you familiar with the movie Groundhog Day? It’s a 1993 fantasy comedy featuring Bill Murray as the protagonist who becomes trapped in a time loop, forcing him to relive February 2 repeatedly. He end’s up reliving the same day for more almost 34-years. I could write a thick book about all the amazing work which is carried out by the Red Cross Red Crescent. Having said that, to keep meeting with the movement in one country after the next across more than 190 countries is my Groundhog Day. While the staff and volunteers are having the meeting for the first time, it is something I have repeated nearly 200 times. I suppose 10 times would have been a lot. It is with great pleasure I can now tell you that the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC) is beyond impressive!! Their commitment and passion shines through and their engagement across the nation is mindboggling. Sri Lanka has had armed conflict over the years and is subject to tsunamis. How does SLRC respond to that? They have helped to build over 25,000 houses!! More about them later. SLRC really do seem to live up to this year’s RC hashtag #FromTheHeart.


Lots of heart amongst these people.

And that brings us to where we are now. Yesterday marked 3,500 days within the Saga. It is just a number. But numbers tend to matter. We have managed to accomplish a lot within that number. Thank you for all of your support. The number will keep growing but hopefully not for much longer. I asked on twitter when the Saga would be completed: by reaching the Maldives or returning home to Denmark? 26% voted for the Maldives and 74% for Denmark. There was one comment which read: “The project is a success in the Maldives and complete in Denmark”. Good one! That comment came from Mr. Mike Douglas :)


On the rooftop with the Maersk team in Colombo. My 54th Maersk presentation. We always take a serious and a silly photo. Guess which one this is? ;)



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 Energy / Geoop

New Partner Logos with DB 2023


If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)


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 Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - really, really, really close now!!

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

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