Ship inspection

Have you ever thought about travelling by cargo ship? Working vessels with room for just a few brave passengers? It’s one of the most popular holidays at Freighter Expeditions and since joining as the Marketing Manager 18 months ago I have been curious to know what all the fuss is about. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of inspecting one to find out.

The MV Hanjin Mundra is a German ship that travels on a 35 day round trip between Australia and ports in China, stopping in Taiwan and South Korea. It can carry up to 4,500 cargo containers typically filled with general cargo, food such as fruit, vege and meat and occasionally dangerous goods. It was docked at Port Botany for 24 hours.

The taxi ride to the port took us down desolate roads surrounded by factories and workshops. The first thing that struck me was that this was not a normal holiday adventure – we were doing something different and off-the-beaten-track. When we finally turned into Friendship Road we inadvertently drove the wrong way down a one way street. Our taxi driver hesitated to go any further lest we run into oncoming traffic but we forced him onwards a little more and eventually found our destination – Gate 37.

At Gate 37 there were no signs for tourists, just a lone office building stood surrounded by a car park and cyclone fencing. In the distance giant yellow cranes rested peacefully over colourful cargo containers like an oversized Meccano set left on the floor of a young boy’s room. Behind them, twinkles of sunlight shimmered on Botany Bay. The bright blue wintery sky accentuated the bold palette of this industrial collage and an unexpected air of tranquillity made this scene strikingly beautiful.

It was Sunday and the office was closed. We pressed the buzzer and a heavily accented voice crackled over the intercom instructing us to go to the second gate. We followed the fence line towards a defensive iron gate but couldn’t get in and had to shout to a man working on the other side. After we explained our conundrum he sighted our ID and let us through.

We were told to wait for the mini bus to take us to the ship. Due to the heavy machinery pedestrians are not allowed to walk around the port. Nor I found out, were we allowed to take photos and I got reprimanded by an unseen guard over the intercom speaker.

As we waited, the peaceful cranes seemed to come alive. Apparently morning tea break was over. Beeping, flashing lights, enormous trucks and little vans suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I watched this new hive of activity with fascination. Being a city girl it’s not often I’m surrounded by this kind of action.

When our shuttle bus collected us we were the only passengers but usually it’s full of crew who get driven back and forth between the ships and the gates when they go ashore. The driver asked us if we knew what the ship looked like as he didn’t recognise the name. Luckily there were only 3 ships in that day and it was the first one we came to.
We clambered past the enormous yellow feet of the cranes and boarded the ship by way of a basic metal staircase that closely resembled a fireman’s ladder with hand rails. At the top we were greeted by two of the crew dressed in greased up overalls and hard hats. ID sited once again and we were taken inside and introduced to the very amicable Captain Stoltze from Germany who proceeded to show us the ship’s accommodation and facilities.

Its 4 cabins are comfortable but basic. Prior to taking passengers they were used for the officers or owners of the ship and are about the size of a small one bedroom apartment. The bedrooms are fitted with two fixed single beds and a tiny ensuite but there is a spacious lounge room with DVD player and mini fridge. The cabins are light filled however depending on the journey your view may be blocked by cargo containers parked about a metre away. Try to get cabin on the side of the ship to avoid this.

What was clearly evident was the need to be self sufficient a. A working ship is just that. It has not been designed for entertaining guests and will definitely not be everybody’s cup of tea. Apart from a small saltwater swimming pool, a ping pong table, DVD player and 2 pieces of gym equipment there is nothing else to keep you amused but yourself. And this is what our clients love.

When the ship is in port you will usually have around 10 to 20 hours to visit a destination as you’re at the whim of the ship and its freight needs. Visitors to Australia are lucky though. According to Captain Stolze who has been working on ships for the last 45 years, Australian’s have a bit of a reputation in shipping circles for being the laziest. The same amount of cargo that would take 8 – 14 hours to offload in Asia, would likely take15 – 24 hours in Australia. During this time you are free to leave the ship. The captain will sort out the details with immigration but you’ll need to get to and from anything interesting yourself.

So what’s the appeal? Not much time in ports, few (if any) other passengers, nothing to entertain you… All of that is the appeal. You time. You will be pretty much left to your own devices so if long days at sea and solitude take your fancy then a freighter cruise is perfect for you.