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Stoneways Marine 2021 - LEADERBOARD

Patient Transport - an OCC collaboration

by Eoin Robson, OCC Committee Member and PO Stavanger 4 May 14:32 UTC
Patient Transport - an OCC collaboration © Ocean Cruising Club

This is a nautical story but not in the sense that the OCC may be acquainted with. It is a story of a meeting of minds that makes the OCC what it is - it is a story of the people comprising the OCC.

Shortly after I became a Port Officer for Stavanger in Norway, my first OCC guests were Neil and Helen McCubbin on board their cutter Milvina in 2015. This will become relevant as you read on. Though six years have passed, it was beneficial that I remembered something we had said of each of our careers.

Captain Evans Hoyt was master of P&O's MV Azura. In 2017 he invited me as Port Officer for Stavanger aboard the very fine ship when it visited Stavanger. I had the good fortune of meeting Evans and Becky on board Wayfarer in Crosshaven, Ireland in summer 2019 when quarantine-free travel between Norway and Ireland was permitted.

Travel by sea?

One evening, having returned home from work from my new employment, I was telephoned by a person I know well. Being asked if I had heard of Mikhael Krotov's (Misha) situation, my friend asked if I knew of anybody in the Norwegian shipping industry. I knew Misha (born 1982) well - or so I thought up until that point: I was advised that Misha was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis. Although he was based here in Stavanger, he was receiving treatment in Nice in France.

It was explained that Misha needed to get from Nice in France to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre (UPMC) in Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Because pulmonary fibrosis is sensitive to air pressure, a regular airliner would be detrimental. Would there be a chance that we could get Misha from France to the USA by sea?

"Would you find a ship going to America? Ask if they can take one person on board. He needs to be there by end of April." These were my simple instructions - the first week of March 2021 had passed so time was not on our side.

What do we do now?

It quickly became apparent that sending many emails to many shipping companies would be a non-option - there are not many shipping companies with large ocean-going ships. Once the ships that are plying between France and the USA are accounted for, the number of shipping companies diminishes to a number countable with one's fingers. Also, taking into account the types of ships that would best serve the purpose, options would later be reduced further. Though options were limited, this made the task easier, as there were only a few shipping companies in the world capable of rendering assistance, hence not many to have to choose from. Where from and where to? Looking at where the major shipping companies were sailing to and observing vessel tracking websites, Baltimore, Chester and New York, in terms of their relative proximity to Pittsburgh, appeared to be the most frequented by shipping from France and the Benelux countries. Washington and Philadelphia were also viable options. All proposed ports of arrival were about a six-to-eight-hour road-journey to Pittsburgh. As we sailors say, what cannot be cured must be endured.

Suitable vessel:

The world's only ocean liner the Queen Mary 2 would have been ideal as it is capable of 30 knots thereby taking a little under five days to cross the Atlantic. The Queen Mary 2 is built as a passenger ship so that is a bonus, but the QM2 was not departing Southampton for New York until June. No cruise ship would be available until the pandemic ended. Besides, cruise ships do not do ocean crossings routinely - hence had to be ruled out. I had received such advice from OCC member Captain Evans Hoyt - now master of Cunard's Queen Victoria. Evans suggested some shipping companies that may have been able to help.

Oil-tanker? For anybody who lives in Stavanger and looks to the sea, an oil tanker will invariably be in one's sight - hence it came to the support group's mind to put Misha on an oil tanker bound for the USA. I objected, explaining that oil tankers did no more than 15 knots and would take the best part three weeks from Europe to the USA. Ditto bulk-carriers. Oil tankers and bulk carriers were deemed too slow to serve the purpose.

The only types of ship remaining were a container ship or a RORO (roll on - roll off) vehicle carrier. Container ships have become larger and slower over the last decades. The 30-knot container ships of the 1970s and 1980s are long gone but I was hoping there would still be some ocean-going container ships still steaming at over 20 knots. A ship making way at 20 knots would take only a little more than a week from France to the USA which I thought to be the maximum time tolerable.

Slow beginnings:

An email to Wilhelmsen Shipping in Oslo was answered by their head office in Geneva. Geneva, of all places for a shipping company to have a head office, why they chose land-locked Switzerland? It struck me how little I knew about the business world today. This portended a steep learning curve in the following days ahead.

Wilhelmsen Shipping in Geneva told me that they deal with oil tankers. I asked if they had a ship going westwards across the Atlantic that could do more than 15 knots. "Pardon?" came the reply. I asked if there were a container ship available instead of an oil tanker. The person on the other end of the telephone suggested that Wallenius Wilhelmsen be called for more information.


Reminding myself that numerous emails and telephone calls would get nowhere, it struck me that LinkedIn should be made use of. Filtering Wallenius Wilhelmsen by people on LinkedIn revealed not what I was expecting, but a little more: a fellow Irishman who had been to the same university as I had been to, working in Oslo as Vice-President of Strategy and Planning. Our logistical problem was soon landed into his LinkedIn Inmail:

Dear Timothy O'Brien,*

Mikhael Krotov based here in Stavanger is receiving treatment for pulmonary fibrosis in Nice, France. Mikhael requires further treatment at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre (UPMC), Pennsylvania. Mikhael cannot fly to Pittsburgh because the air pressure in a conventional aeroplane is too low for his pulmonary condition.

A container ship (20 knots +) departing France for Baltimore, Chester or New York is what is in mind to attain the speediest means of getting Mikhael to Pittsburgh. All the relevant documents pertaining to immigration and hospital acceptance are in order.

Would there be anything Wallenius Wilhelmsen Shipping could do for this? I would appreciate any help or information that you could give to enable us to meet this end.

Eoin Robson
10th March 2021


The following Friday morning 12th March, contact between Eoin and Timothy was made. Explaining that I was the sender of the Inmail, I outlined the situation. Telling Timothy that I was a fellow Irishman and that we had been to the same university, although not at the same time, Timothy asked my subject area. Timothy and I discussed the lecturers we both may have had. Finally, somebody beginning to believe me.

Timothy explained that The Law of the Sea would not apply in Misha's case. Misha would be boarding the ship from the land and not from the sea making any shipping company liable to a passenger's welfare regardless as to whether the shipping company charged for its services or otherwise. Timothy explained that Wallenius Wilhelmsen takes passengers from the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand on board their cargo ships routinely, so there existed a degree of precedence for our cause, albeit for different reasons entirely.

Continue reading here.

*Name has been falsified.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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