Right now, Milan Falsing is ashore in Denmark, but the dream of a fourth service as a volunteer at Mercy Ships is in his blood.
Milan Falsing has replaced the blue ocean with a white wall and a computer screen at the Danish Maritime Authority, where he works as a Nautical Adviser. For 4 years, the blue ocean has been the setting of Milan’s daily routine as chief mate on the Norden’s tankers. However, Mercy Ships and his 3 trips as a master mariner-trained volunteer aboard the hospital ship AFRICA MERCY have got in his blood and soul, and in a good way, he emphasises.
Everyone onboard, from the captain to the dishwashers below in the cafeteria, help to make a difference for other people. They all represent a cog on a gear with more than 400 cogs, propelling the world’s largest civilian hospital ship AFRICA MERCY. A mini-community aboard a ship, inhabited by a maritime operating crew, an entire hospital staff, as well as a large number of other people who are performing some of the basic functions of a society.
AFRICA MERCY is usually operational 9 months a year in West Africa, where the ship, among other things, offers orthopaedic surgery, reconstructive plastic and eye surgery, while the region’s own health professionals receive training and further education onboard.
Captain at 32
Milan was out on AFRICA MERCY as a 25-year-old for the first time in 2011. The second time was in 2015, in 2011 and 2015 as 1st mate. After a 3-months enlistment in 2019, he returned onboard as a 32-year-old and the organisation’s youngest captain ever.
Onboard a ship like AFRICA MERCY, he also has the job title of Hotel and Hospital Director, because even though it is a floating, highly efficient, modern hospital, the platform is still a ship, and it is, as you know, the captain that bears the ultimate responsibility.
”In a technical sense, you are the captain of a passenger ship, and that in itself is quite different from being on a tanker. However, there are no real passengers on board. In addition to the patients on board, the rest of the hundreds of people you are in charge of as the captain of a hospital ship have clearly defined roles that they are all passionate about performing in the best possible way. Therefore, I rather experienced my role as a kind of CEO of a medium-sized company,” Milan explains.
And did that also include you being a hospital director?
”Yeah, you could say that. A hospital director is mostly in charge of healthcare professionals. However, here I had the whole package because we also had a mini-community that had to function, and therefore, I had to coordinate many, sometimes conflicting tasks. If something needs painting, that is one thing, but if the fumes from the paint enter the ventilation to the operating rooms when they are in use, then it’s a no-go.”
”We have weekly meetings between the senior management and middle management from all departments coordinating the coming week and sometimes even further ahead. It is basically about making the hospital part work optimally together with the operation of the ship, also during periods when we are doing rust work,” he explains.
The Technical Management Team aboard the AFRICA MERCY, which is the top management team, consists of 15 people, while there are a further 15 middle managers.
One of the many things that distinguish a hospital ship like the AFRICA MERCY from other ships is that it has an extremely limited yearly sailing time, actually only between the base on Tenerife, where, among other things, docking is implemented, and West Africa. However, the many months in port as a fully operational hospital ship require the ship with all functions onboard to be constantly operational – not least the power production from the auxiliary machinery.
With so few sailing hours, what does everyday life look like for the captain and the helmsmen?
”In addition to the fact that the deck and engine crew still have to carry out ongoing maintenance of the ship, there are logistics and planning tasks that more than amply outweigh the time you would normally spend sailing the ship.”
”Even though we leave Tenerife fully loaded, there are still plenty of supplies we need to get to the ship on an ongoing basis. Therefore, planning, coordinating and waiting for containers that may not arrive exactly as planned is a good part of our daily lives, and it is a reality you have to get used to when you work in Africa, he explains.
Contact person in Denmark
Milan is still closely linked to Mercy Ships, first and foremost to the organisation’s country office in Denmark, Mercy Ships Denmark, where he has a seat on the board. His task is to be the contact person for all categories of seafarers from Denmark who may wish to become volunteers for Mercy Ships. He is also part of the small handful of 4-5 “permanent” captains that Mercy Ships can currently draw on internationally.
”Last October, I had my papers renewed, and fortunately, some dreams never end, and as I said, Mercy Ships is in my blood, so of course, I have to return again at some point, he reveals.
However, he is not revealing any details right now, as he must also take his home front into account.
”I went ashore 3 months before the world was hit by the Covid pandemic, and the ship had to stay at Tenerife. I had just had my second child, and I probably needed some quiet time at home with my family and some regular colleagues, Milan explains.
Mercy Ships has gone to the heart of Blue Denmark. Each of the international offices of the international humanitarian organisation has the task of recruiting volunteers and providing sponsors in the specific country. Mercy Ships is entirely dependent on both types of contributions to keep two large hospital ships operational. In terms of staffing, this includes more than 1,000 people and a wide range of technical services when two large ships are to be kept in operation. As a maritime nation, Denmark belongs to a world elite, both in terms of fleet size and technology, which is also reflected in the support that Mercy Ships Denmark receives from the industry. Currently, the organisation is backed by 12 different players in Blue Denmark via the Danish country office: MAN Energy Solutions, Mærsk Oil Trading, Danske Rederier, Norden, OSK Group, Ehrenberg Sørensen Kommunikation, Danske Maritime, C.C. Jensen Windows, Dania Ship Management, DESMI, Mari Team, Sixtus Maritime. More funds for the end purpose The supporters contribute in different ways. Some offer ongoing service agreements on special terms that save Mercy Ships large sums relative to the market price. Thus, the organisation can channel its funds to the end purpose instead, which is to help as many people as possible. Others contribute by offering services or products for specific projects, which was evident during the construction of the organisation’s new hospital ship GLOBAL MERCY. Finally, Danish seafarers have been sent out as volunteers to carry out service onboard, sponsored by their Danish shipping company employer. In addition to the 12 Danish maritime companies and organisations that support Mercy Ships via Mercy Ships Denmark, there are also lots of contributions via other country offices around the world. The biggest contribution of know-how during the construction of GLOBAL MERCY came from Sweden, more specifically from the company Stena Ro Ro, which is considered a world leader when it comes to construction and project management of ferry and ro/ro newbuilds. Thus, it is Stena Ro Ro’s know-how that is behind the construction of the new hospital ship, which is also based on a ro/pax design from the company, at a Chinese shipyard. GLOBAL MERCY’s machinery is supplied by Wärtsilä, and the Finnish company has also signed up to contribute with an ongoing service agreement on particularly favourable terms.