Life at sea during COVID-19. Personal stories: Tomasz

June 24, 2020

RT Raven, Darwin, Australia, from January – June, 2020

“It was early January and I was travelling to the vessel (RT Raven) in Darwin when I heard on the news that there was this Corona virus. I started reading a little bit and I found out that young people are not that much affected by the virus. Our crew are in their thirties and forties, so I knew that we, in case of infection, would most likely not develop serious symptoms.

When I joined the vessel however, I felt that the crew that was signing off were really focused and concentrating on the Corona virus. They were following the news and social media a lot. I could feel there was a little anxiety and people were afraid of us, the new crew joining.

Then, in the first couple of weeks on board, the news increased. It came from all around the world and it was 24 hours per day. Most of it was not very reliable. The news was increasing stress and anxiety among the crew. They were worried about their families. Perhaps not their children or wives, but surely their parents and grandparents, the people that were at risk.

I knew from the start that the worst thing for the crew would be to see the captain panicking, or being at stress, or losing his mind. To clarify and perhaps undermine the conspiracy theories on the internet, I decided to collect as much reliable information as possible. Explaining, informing, and clearing all the fake news was most important. I consulted reliable sources only. There was a lot of information on the webpage of WHO, including movies and nice pdf’s with graphics and statistics. Once I was convinced that we’d be okay, I knew I could then convince my crew that we would be fine. I agreed with the head of engineering department that in the coming months our most important job would be to keep the crew in a sound condition and in good mental health. He would take care of his engineers and I would do the same on deck.

I organized a meeting with the crew. I collected all the possible information and then I explained what I had learned from all the trustworthy sources. Thankfully most of the crew were rest assured. What we did additionally during that meeting was to ask for suggestions from the crew. I told them straight up: ‘Listen guys, all the countries around us will close up. We will be stranded on board for many, many weeks to go. Please tell me what you need to keep you in good spirit, so that we can withstand this period.’ And there were many suggestions, such as extra games and some Playstations. And the crew asked to work a bit less. Fatigue is disastrous, if you can’t sleep and you get all this fake news it is only increasing anxiety. This was something we wanted to avoid. So, we reduced working hours to a minimum necessary to keep the operations and to keep maintenance. Of course, I tried to keep the crew busy, so they were not thinking and worrying too much. They were working less, but we also needed to keep the vessel in good shape. Even if it would take a few months more, we should still remember that we are seafarers. This is what we do. We keep the vessels running.

I returned the end of May, after nearly five months on the vessel. I was the first to leave, the rest of the crew was released yesterday (June 22nd). It was really nice to come home. Every time it is nice, but after five months you really want to get home. You want to see your kids, your family, the trees, the grass, the flowers. You really miss that at sea. You start missing things that are obvious in daily life. Like, to see other people, or to see something green, or brown. Or to see something that is not water.

After such a long period you really feel lonely, detached and isolated at open sea. I am worried about people, and there are thousands of them, who now spend more than twelve or fifteen months even on board. And who are still stranded. We were lucky, we spend nearly five months on board. There are a lot of people that are in much worse condition than we were. Even without the pandemic.”

Seafarers are on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, playing an essential role in maintaining the flow of vital goods, such as food, medicines and medical supplies. The Day of the Seafarer 2020 pays tribute to seafarers, acknowledging their sacrifice and the issues they face. Many seafarers have been away from home for months and are unsure when they will be able to return home due to travel restrictions.  We want to contribute to the awareness by showing the world portraits of KOTUG seafarers, as a tribute to all seafarers that keep the Kotug operations running and for whom we have a deep respect. Above is the story of Tomas Blaszczyk, captain on the RT Raven in the Timor Sea. He was onboard the RT Raven during five months due to the COVID-19 restictions. We do everything we can to get crew changes arranged and therefore support initiatives like the campaign of the IMO to create awareness for this ongoing situation. Help spreading the word by using the hashtag #SeafarersAreKeyWorkers.