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On board the salt ship

Akcros Chemicals : 21 May, 2003  (New Product)
Every week, Akzo Nobel ships thousands of tons of salt from its plant in Delfzijl, the Netherlands, to Rotterdam. Luc Smeets climbed on board the Quo Vadis to experience life on deck during one of the regular sailings.
A guaranteed supply of salt is essential to Akzo Nobel's chlorine facility located in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Particularly since the plant will bump up production at the end of 2003 to meet demand.

Until recently, the shipment provided by BU Salt was partly transported across the North Sea from Delfzijl to Rotterdam and partly by inland waterway. But the quantity of salt transported was also too large to enable good inventory management. Sea transport is also at the mercy of the elements.

Base Chemicals has therefore decided to transport salt to its Botlek site in Rotterdam from Delfzijl using only the extensive system of Dutch inland waterways. Quo Vadis is one four ships which recently began making the deliveries using this route.

It's a Friday afternoon in April, just after 3pm. On the river de Lek at Lekkerkerk, the Quo Vadis chugs towards Rijnhaven. The 100-meter long vessel, which left Delfzijl in the early hours of Thursday morning, has around 2,500 tons of salt on board. With around two hours of sailing to go, the final destination is almost in sight.

The view changes as we sail on, a row of old Dutch facades, the tall and elegant Euromast and the striking Jugendstil building with the words Holland America Line emblazoned on the front. It was here, where modern architecture now towers over Rotterdam's famous old district, the Kop van Zuid, where Dutch emigrants used to set sail for America.

'We really like it,' he says. 'In the past we've sailed to countries such as France. Obviously that was nice, but because the trips were longer we weren't able to see family and friends that often. Now that we have two small children, I certainly don't want to be on long trips.'

Both Eelke and Loes come from shipping families. Eelke's great-grandparents transported peat to The Hague and Loes' father was a steward on the Holland America Line. They met on board when Elke was working as first mate. Loes was the daughter of the steward.

The wheelhouse of the Quo Vadis, with its red carpet and veneered wooden walls, is a pleasant place to be. Outside a soft shower of rain is falling, while inside you can hear the occasional soft squeak of the windscreen wipers.

Eelke sits comfortably in a large leather revolving armchair, gently cradling the steering column in his hand, which looks just like a computer game joystick. Thanks to a radar installation and satellite connection, he can even pilot the vessel through thick mist in the dark.

'Fortunately, we almost never have to sail at night,' he says. 'Last night we were anchored close to the sluice at Lelystad.'

Although the ship has modern equipment, including a computer with online connection, there's plenty of work to do. Eelke was up and about at 6am inspecting the furnace-like engine room and casting off the ropes.

Kees Bal, the 23-year old deckhand, was at work an hour earlier than his boss, scrubbing the deck and painting a section of railing. Once in Rijnhaven, the last stop before unloading the following morning, Kees is busy fueling the moored Quo Vadis.

With well-drilled hands he connects the thick rubber hoses from the fuel tanker to the boat. As he works, he talks. Kees, whose grandfather and grandmother both worked on the ships, can't imagine working on shore.

'Here on a ship you feel free,' he enthuses. 'Yesterday I saw stunning waterways in Friesland. This morning it was the polders. I still think it's wonderful every time.'

Finally, after a trip of approximately 250 kilometers, everyone starts preparing to leave the ship. Tomorrow the salt will be unloaded, but first the Fransbergens are going to go ashore for a well-earned evening off.
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