Captain Pieter Dekker is in charge of the newest vessel in the Geos Group fleet, the Thun Blyth. Born and raised in Holland, he attended nautical college and started sailing with a chemical tanker company in the 1980s, becoming a Master in 1998. “I then spent a few years ashore in office jobs like Quality Manager and Crew Manager,” he says, “but I thought, this is not for me. So, I joined MF Shipping Group in 2014 – just in time for my licences to still be valid – and I’ve been on this size vessel ever since.”
The ship’s Captain is responsible for everything that happens on board, including sailing between ports, loading and discharging the fuel, and managing the crew. “In port, it’s mostly manoeuvring the vessel, arriving or departing,” says Captain Dekker. “When at sea, there’s a lot of reporting that takes up quite a bit of time – whether it’s about cargo, or with the technical department or management company – there’s a lot of reporting and liaison between the Chief Engineer and Superintendent, the ship’s agents and Victoria at the Geos Group.
“The cargo operation itself is usually done by the Chief Officer and Deck Officers, so for the Captain it’s a matter of keeping an eye on things and keeping the proper people in place. We have a very small crew, so although the majority of communications are done with the Chief Officer and Chief Engineer, when operating the ship, you work with everybody.”
There are 10 people on board the Thun Blyth, mostly from Russia, Holland, Ukraine, Poland and the Philippines. The officers work two months on, two months off, and for the crew it’s four months on, two months off. Normally, seafarers fly home during their time off, but this has not always been possible during the pandemic. “We are quite lucky that we are trading here in Northwest Europe,” says Captain Dekker, “if you’re in Asia, crew changes have not been possible for the last year and a half. Some people have not been home since Covid started – there are some vessels that have had people on board for more than a year, without being able to go on land or go to an airport – that is quite some time.”
Each member of the crew has their own cabin with a bed, desk, TV and bathroom, and there is also a mess room and a galley where they get together to eat and relax. Fresh food is collected when the vessel is in port. “Sometimes we order the larger amounts and have it delivered,” he says, “but yesterday we were in Stornoway so it was a matter of having a few people with shopping bags from Tesco. We basically eat the same as what we eat at home. We have one Cook on board and he is from Russia, so he tends to do a little more Russian food than Western European food – anything from schnitzels to goulashes or Italian meals.”
The Thun Blyth is equipped with NaabsaMAX (not always afloat but safely aground) technology, which enables her to call at tide-restricted and smaller niche ports, so Captain Dekker and his crew spend much of their time sailing between the oil refinery at Immingham and the Scottish islands. A keen photographer, he always keeps his camera (and now a drone, too) close to hand, so that he can capture the view from the bridge: the ports and seascapes, birds and wildlife, other ships passing by, a beautiful orange Hebridean sunset.
When he isn’t on board the ship, Captain Dekker goes home to spend time with his family in Holland: “I live in Zaltbommel which a nice small place on the river, I’ve been living there for 30 odd years. Now and then my wife and I go away somewhere on holiday – we’ve travelled to Norway, Scotland, Spain, basically everywhere in Europe – but most of the time I’m perfectly happy just being at home.”
Read about Captain Joanna Makal and life on board the Thun Grace