Uniteam’s Chief Engineer on Work on New Generation Bulk Carriers

Chief Engineer Olexiy Lavrent’ev, Uniteam Ukraine
Chief Engineer Olexiy Lavrent’ev, Uniteam Ukraine

China Navigation distinguishes itself from a number of other major shipping companies through its approach to fleet renewal and crew formation. Over the past few years, the company has accepted many modern, newly built ships. Before embarking on the new ships, seafarers undergo paid training on vessels of a similar category. Chinese shipowners are expanding their presence in the market by entering into new partnership agreements with crewing companies in European countries. In Ukraine, China Navigation is cooperating with several companies; one of its most promising partners is Uniteam Ukraine, which is a representative office of Uniteam Marine. Chief Engineer Olexiy Lavrent’ev has already made several voyages on new China Navigation vessels. The Professional Seafarer wanted to know if newly built Chinese ships really are that good.

The Professional Seafarer: Olexiy, it is traditionally believed that products produced in China are, alas, far from the concept of quality…
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: About the new China Navigation ships, I can say this — they are not cheap, and this company’s bulk fleet is really innovative. It is difficult to say now how this will work in the future, because all of the ships are new and were constructed only a year or two ago. Breakdowns happen, but they are very quickly eliminated under warranty. Nevertheless, there have been no serious breakdowns on my watch at all.

The Professional Seafarer: What is the innovative approach you talked about?
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: They pay maximum attention to what is known as Energy Saving. Cargo cranes with energy recovery are installed on the ships. When lifting cargo, they consume energy, but give this energy back when they lower it. The engines are definitely electronic; as with any engine, they have their pros and cons, but they effectively solve the issue of reducing atmospheric emissions.

Seawater cooling pumps on the ships are equipped with frequency controllers: special sensors transmit signals to the equipment, and the pump speed varies depending on the seawater temperature. This also facilitates energy saving; if the seawater is cold enough, there is no need to supply a large amount of it to the refrigerators, and the pumps rotate more slowly, meaning that less energy is wasted. Mooring winches on the new bulk carriers do not operate on hydraulics, but on electricity. Frequency controllers have also been installed; they change the speed of the winch rotation. Moreover, it is important that any change in the load does not happen jerkily, but smoothly, which is usually considered the prerogative of hydraulics. This has been achieved in the operation of electrical equipment.

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Photo: John Pitcher

The Professional Seafarer: How does the company control compliance with international environmental standards in shipping?
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: All new ships have a green passport confirming that all possible measures were taken to prevent unacceptable emissions during the construction and equipment of the vessel. The Head Office of China Navigation is in Singapore, and this country is very active in promoting environmental issues. At the moment, all of the vessels are probably equipped with bilge water separators. The international requirements of the Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships MARPOL 73/78 provide for the permissibility of water evacuation, according to which the content of particles polluting the environment does not exceed 15 ppm. However, all China Navigation equipment is set to 5 ppm. This means that they have applied the international norms even more stringently to themselves. Of course, the process of wastewater collection is strictly controlled. There are purification facilities approved by various classification societies, e.g., the US Coast Guard, etc. All of these processes are carried out in compliance with all MARPOL standards for environmental protection.

The Professional Seafarer: How comfortable are living conditions for the crewmembers?
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: I cannot say that the cabins are very large, but they are comfortable. There is a gym (although this has long been the norm for all ships under the requirements of the Manila Convention of MLC 2006). By the way, I saw that air conditioners had been installed separately in the gym for the first time. In addition to the general ventilation system, there is also a separate air conditioner in the galley that operates independently from the main one.

The Professional Seafarer: Which China Navigation vessels did you work on?
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: I worked on vessels in the Handysize category, with a deadweight of 38,000 tons and crews consisting of between 19 and 22 people. I worked on timber carriers. These ships have racks for transporting the timber, and when they are not carrying timber, they operate as bulk carriers. I dealt with the transportation of timber for the first time in my career.

The Professional Seafarer: Did you undergo preliminary training?
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: Of course. First, to work on such a ship it is necessary to obtain a certificate confirming that the person is fit to work with electronic engines. I went to weekly training in Shanghai at the company’s expense;what is more, the employer pays a furtherrate (not complete, but it’s still important). There are courses onworking with cargo cranes (MacGregor cranes are mainly installed on the ships), which last for three or four days. For newcomers, a separate programme of safety courses is also held in Yangon. Once every three years, even people who have been working for the company for a long time have to take these courses. The company’ policy is to ensure that there are as few accidents on the ships as possible. In addition to the company’s reputation, every incident entails insurance costs and other expenses. Therefore, they do everything they can to minimize risks.

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Photo: Steven Collingwood

The Professional Seafarer: Is it possible for the cadets to work on such ships?
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: There are many cadets on the ships. On this voyage, the crew included both an engine and a deck cadet, both Ukrainians. China Navigation is building many ships and so has a constant demand for staff.They therefore began to consider new partners and chose Uniteam Marine, where I have been working for many years, as one of these partners. Before signing the contract, they went to Uniteam’s offices as well as to Cyprus, Odessa and Hamburg. China Navigation is considering the option of increasing its staff, starting with the cadets, so our cadets are given every opportunity.

The Professional Seafarer: What does China Navigation’s fleet look like today?
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: Right now they are updating the fleet, so the company is selling old ships and buying new ones. Basically, these are bulk carriers and timber carriers. This is a good niche, as bulk carriers and timber carriers of this small size rarely stop functioning during a crisis. They can go into any harbour, even small ones whose depths do not allow large ships to enter. Almost all of them are built with modern cargo equipment and can independently load and unload cargo, meaning that they are multifunctional. There is not much cargo there and transportation is not so expensive, meaning that such ships are in very high demand. If you need to transport 30,000 tonnes of cargo, then you don’t need to load this cargo into a 100,000 tonne bulk carrier and overpay for it. I have been working for 10 years on ships of such dimensions and cannot remember a time where we were out of work for more than a couple of weeks.

China Navigation built some new ships two years ago which don’t have timber racks, and so these are ordinary bulk carriers. However, recently they decided to set their sights on timber carriers. The company has established routes in Australia; we have transported timber from America to China.

The Professional Seafarer: In your opinion, what are the prospects for Ukrainian seamen in the international shipping market?
Olexiy Lavrent’ev: Much depends on the quality of their education. I graduated from the National University “Odessa Maritime Academy”, and we were taught that it is impossible to learn everything at once — progress does not stand still. We were taught to self-teach, to analyse and to search for information and use it correctly. Of course, profile knowledge is important, but it’s also important to be able to work with information, documentation and instructions for mechanisms.