SERVICE AT THE END OF THE WORLD
It was not an everyday request that came to Wärtsilä Schiedam last April. Repairing a screw, without a dry dock, at the other end of the world. When team leader Martin Roest said ‘yes’ to this job, he didn’t know that there would be more obstacles.
Last April, Wärtsilä Germany contacted the workshop in Schiedam because a propeller blade had (partly) broken off from the MC Scout of Nordica Schifffahrts.
Because delivery of a new blade would have taken too long, Germany asked Schiedam to come and repair the propeller. On site. Small detail: that was on the Falkland Islands, at the extreme end of the world, where the weather can be awful and where there is no dry dock available.
Extra challenge: the MC Scout sails around 17 to 18 times a year back and forth between Montevideo (Uruguay) and the Falklands. It transports all the freight needed on the islands, and is therefore an indispensable lifeline for the residents. The repair had to be carried out between two trips.
THE FALKLAND ISLANDS
“The Falkland Islands are as big as Flanders, but only 3400 civilians live there, plus another 2000 military personnel at the military base. There are half a million sheep, and around the islands, intensive fishing takes place. In 1982, a short war raged between Argentina and the United Kingdom, both of which claim the islands.”
Martin Roest: “We did wonder whether this was a feasible job. Would it be possible, under those specific conditions? We know the weather can be terrible out there. Suppose a wave hit the vessel ship and water ran into the system—then you have a big problem. It was quite exciting on paper, but we are Wärtsilä. We like to show courage and daring and always try to serve the customer within the possibilities. But whether this job was just inside or just outside the possibilities was the question.”
Roest decided to take up the challenge. He advised the ship owner to first saw the opposite propeller blade in the same shape as the broken blade so that the vessel could continue to sail in a balanced manner until the Wärtsilä team arrived. That took a while, because a round trip to the Falklands is about twelve days. First, you fly to Santiago de Chile, from where you fly on to the southernmost point of Chile, Punta Arenas. From there you can go once a week to Mount Pleasant, the military airport of the Falklands. You can also only return once a week. So whether your job is done within a day or a week, you have no choice but stay on the islands for seven days. And then back again in two or three days.
The team in Schiedam prepared three toolboxes with everything they needed and sent them to Montevideo, so they could be shipped to the Falklands with the MC Scout. Roest: “Shortly after that we heard that the other blades had failed as well. So we packed another four toolboxes and sent them to Santiago de Chile because the ship in Montevideo wouldn't make it anymore. The crates were on the same plane as my colleagues Rob Buwalda, Christ Netten and I. We arrived on the Falklands, but the four toolboxes didn't.” This meant that the crates would arrive with the next flight at the earliest, a week later—on the day the Wärtsilä team were going to fly back.
Plan B to F
So we invented Plan B. Roest: “The whole job required a lot of our creativity. We had to find a workshop. We succeeded, but we had to clear it first before we could get to work, as it was such a mess. We also had to make our own tools. In scrap bins, we found things we used to make all kinds of objects and tools.”
“The charterer knew that there were people available on the island who could do quite a bit of work. Those engineers were indeed very handy. You need that in such a remote place—you have to think in terms of solutions, just like we do. For example, only half the tool for removing the bolts from the blades had arrived. Someone from the workshop searched the whole island and finally came across the right equipment, still completely new in the box. We couldn't remove the second blade. We grabbed a long pipe, attached the key to it, then put a noose around the rudder and eventually we got it loose. You have to come up with something, don't you? You mustn't get nervous—just stay calm and think about how to apply the laws of nature.”
Roest and his team repaired three blades and put the spare blade in place of the fourth blade. The last blade was sent to Schiedam for repair. Roest: “It arrived at the same time as the crates that had gone missing. We also saw them being unloaded at the airport, when we were taking off to go home!”
In the time the men had before their flight left the Falklands, they travelled around a bit: “The Falklands are littered with shipwrecks. We even saw one that had been there since 1896. It is also bursting with memories of the Falklands War, such as a crashed helicopter and foxholes. It’s so empty and so quiet—it really is the end of the world. Only in the town does life looks like how we are used to, and you almost forget what kind of special place you are in. There, in that small community, we were soon known as the heroes who came to restore the lifeline with the outside world. So in the evening, there were always beers waiting for us. Until the beer ran out! When that happens, you once again realise where you are. Looking back, it was quite a challenging job, because nothing was standard. We have had many adventures, but this was really a very special one.”