At 17 years of age, he travelled as a passenger on a container ship from Rotterdam to Sri Lanka. Since then, he knew for sure: ‘I want to sail!’ TOS is guiding Alexander van Bergen in his ‘journey’ from intern to captain at FAIRPLAY TOWAGE.
How did you end up as an intern at TOS?
‘In Belgium you build up sailing hours outside of your study programme. So you apply for ‘sailing internships’ in the holiday periods or after your studies. After completing the Nautical College in Antwerp, I went to a career event where I came into contact with TOS. It was exactly the right moment. TOS was looking for trainees for their client FAIRPLAY. I started there in November 2013.’
Where did you start out?
‘As a trainee, you begin with the basics: as a sailor. On the FAIRPLAY-27, a seagoing tug, I sailed to Malta, then from Gibraltar to Norway and on to the dry dock of Rotterdam. I gained most of my experience working on deck. When I was ready, I was allowed to tag along on the bridge. After my internship, I became third officer on the FAIRPLAY-33 and then later second officer on the FAIRPLAY-32.’
What did you learn in that period?
‘I learned a lot on deck. Anchor handling. Working with a towline, winches and chains. Large, heavy things. You learn to stay focused because any mistake could bring you and the whole team in danger. Besides that, when I was in Africa I learned to be patient. Not to stress about the things that you have no control over, such as long waiting times!’
Which project do you remember the most?
‘Gabon, on the FAIRPLAY-33. A large project where we worked long and hard in extreme heat. But it was a great learning experience. Practice makes perfect! After six weeks, my replacement called in
sick. If I wouldn’t mind staying on another two weeks… I don’t have any commitments, so I thought… Why not!’
What was your reason for moving to harbour towage from FAIRPLAY TOWAGE?
‘I was asked by FAIRPLAY and TOS because they were looking for new captains. I am always in for a challenge and so, since January 2016, I work as chief officer in the Port of Rotterdam. A big change. The directness of the Dutch, and especially the people of Rotterdam, is very pleasant to work with, but takes a little getting used to! Now I am slowly working towards the position of captain. It is mostly a matter of training, knowing the port well, learning to manoeuvre and tow and, above all, building up sailing hours.’
What are the biggest differences between ocean towage and harbour towage?
‘At sea you are of course away from home for longer periods of time and you’re miles away from land and other ships. In the port, it’s a bit strange at first to come closer to other ships than you’ve been taught. The safety margins you learned at sea can be tossed overboard! Also, you work in a smaller team and have more tasks. Above all, you have to manoeuvre more and there is more radio contact necessary with other vessels. Of course in the port you have more support from shore, and quicker too. At sea, you have to rely on yourself more.’
How do you experience the support from TOS?
‘I receive all the support I need. For example, TOS makes sure that I get the necessary courses and safety trainings. Otherwise, the contact with Pim* is very nice. He always welcomes discussion and suggestions to improve the planning. Also, Achouak Jouahri, Division Manager Maritime, is closely involved with my development. She really made an effort for me and vouched formy transfer. I appreciate that very much!’