Maersk Cargo Operators Shows How To Sail Through COVID19

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Behind every container, there is a story. No one knows this better than the 24/7 cargo teams who are dedicated to around-the-clock vessel operations, says an article published by Maersk.

With this article, Maersk gives an insight into the container shipping cargo handling teams. So, it’s crucial for both budding seafarers and businesses to know how it works.

Getting cargo ready for transport

With global trade constantly on the move, it takes immense efforts behind the scenes to get cargo ready for transport.

A large chunk of this work goes on in the 24/7 cargo teams in Maersk’s liner operations clusters (LOCs) at key ports around the world.

These teams are at the heart of container operations. They are deeply involved in issues that impact cargo-readiness – from container weight problems to reefer unit malfunctions, missing custom papers or even a documentation issue during booking.

Colleagues in these teams make sure every container is ready to be loaded.

  • They often must take fast and crucial decisions to solve issues, which arise unexpectedly and beyond their control.
  • For instance, if strong winds hit a terminal, operations might be suspended and a vessel will have to sail before loading is completed.

How does it feel like working in Cargo support?

Jason Way and Nolwenn Boully are colleagues at Maersk’s North Europe Liner Operations Center (NEU LOC) in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the largest port in Europe. In this interview, they share their experience of working for the 24/7 Cargo Team.

global trade never sleeps
Colleagues together at the North Europe Liner Operations Cluster in Rotterdam.
Nolwenn Boully

Nolwenn Boully

Cargo Operator – NEU LOC – 24/7 Cargo Team

Nolwenn is French and has been working with Maersk since 2016. She started in Customer Service in France where she stayed for a year before she saw the opportunity to join the Cargo Team in the Netherlands. After a year of working in what they call the “Daily Cargo Team”, Nolwenn decided to move on to work for the 24/7 team and she’s been part of it for about a year.

“One of the most interesting things is that every shift is different. You almost never encounter the same challenge twice because you’re working with so many different stakeholders.”, said Nolwenn Boully, Cargo Operator

Jason Way

Jason Way

Cargo Operator – NEU LOC – 24/7 Cargo Team

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Jason joined Maersk and the team in 2018 with no prior container shipping practice. Between his degree from a maritime university and his years of experience working on another 24/7 team in the oil and gas sector, Jason is no stranger to shipping operations. Alongside working full time, he is currently attending university again in Rotterdam for his MBA.

“Even though our days are usually structured, anything unexpected can still happen. That’s why our job is to try and be prepared before something does. The team is 24/7 and so is this business.”,saidJason Way, Cargo Operator

Role of the 24/7 team

Jason: We like to keep in mind that behind every container there’s a customer. There are so many different departments involved which we need to work closely with to move boxes. Our days are structured, but our jobs require a combination of port and maritime knowledge. If there’s a 4,000-container load list, every unit has an impact on the customer’s business and Maersk. Therefore, we try to make sure we pre-check and let our colleagues know in advance if an issue needs to be resolved.

Nolwenn: In other words, we basically take care of every aspect of a container through its journey in Northern Europe.

A Day in the team

Nolwenn: What always stands out the most is our working hours. We work with a very dynamic schedule. Each of us work on an interval of two mornings, two afternoons, and one night followed by three days off. This might sound a bit crazy when you think about organising the workload, but we have a pretty good base structure for our day-to-day tasks. Some actions can’t be completed in eight hours. That’s why we make sure our handovers are very detailed as this helps the rest of the team understand the case and follow up.

Jason: It might surprise everyone to know that our days aren’t exactly like an action movie. We aren’t spending all day and night handling emergencies and firefighting. The best-case scenario for business continuity is everything going according to plan. However, our team stands out by using our experience to anticipate when something might go wrong and proactively creating backup plans. This is a common practice for us because throughout the course of 24 hours, a project tends to pass on from one colleague to another. We are currently a team of 11, all handling any vessel port call around Northern Europe. The handovers make sure that we’re able to provide the same level of service to stakeholders, no matter which colleague is answering.

The Biggest Challenge

Jason: Being part of this team gives you the opportunity to learn about every aspect of the business. At the end of a normal working day, a lot of the other departments reach out to handover any important cases we need to keep our eye on. This has allowed us to further develop ourselves outside of cargo. This can also be one of the biggest challenges, as it’s necessary to learn a lot about the business during the first days of employment. Imagine being on one of your first shifts in the middle of the night and an issue arises. You can’t reach out to colleagues due to the time, so you need to have different set of skills and some confidence.

Nolwenn: One of the most interesting things is that every shift is different. You almost never encounter the same challenge twice because you’re working with so many different stakeholders. Another plus is that you work with an experienced team. I have only been in the team for a year and I learn a lot from my more experienced colleagues. A challenge would also be working with so many different stakeholders. This means there are a lot of different rules and regulations, and it’s hard to keep track when you’re new.

Making Difficult Decisions

Nolwenn: If there’s a risk of operations being impacted, we thankfully have all the information we need to make the best decision. We also work closely with capacity and marine colleagues whom have up-to-date information on berth planning and scheduling. This allows us to have a full overview and with time you get experience from similar cases and confidence. The more you work in 24/7, the more the phrase “practice makes perfect” makes sense.

Jason: With enough time and resources, you can make any decision with 100% certainty. The difficulty here is that often we are lacking both. You won’t always know for sure if you’re making the right decision, but we have to work with the mentality that the worst decision is none at all. If you’re on the weekend team, you will only know if the decision was correct by Monday morning and there’s no time to waste. The team is entrusted to use their experience and judgement to make the hard calls. Sometimes they don’t have the full story beforehand because there’s no colleague awake to ask. This has given us a duty of care to learn more about the business than just cargo, as most of the time issues can happen out of hours. Therefore, any decision is always made by keeping in mind what’s best for Maersk and for the customer.

COVID19 Impact on the Job

Jason: The main and only change is that we work from home. Due to our dynamic schedule, we only have two meetings a year where we all meet in person. So, we are no stranger to not seeing our team for a while, and we make sure we always keep tabs on one another as individuals and how we’re doing. The team was well-prepared to handle such a challenge, which is important as we’re part of the business continuity plan.

Nolwenn: Our workload hasn’t changed or the way we do it either. As a 24/7 team, open communication has been key to our success and during the pandemic, we have moved on to communicating virtually. The main impact is that the team consists of a couple of expats like me which have been personally impacted in a very different way. All your team members are very aware of your situation and empathise, so we’ve been doing a lot of personal checks after business meetings. I think this has helped us feel together in times where some of us have our families far away.

How To Overcome It? COVID19 Lessons Learned

Nolwenn: Something that has worked very well is making sure that everyone in the team knows about terminal specificities and processes. This is what I mentioned regarding the interesting thing about this job. We are so involved in our cases, not only resolving an issue but trying to prevent one, that we work a lot cross-functionally. This has allowed us to work closely with other colleagues and learn a lot of tricks. There are many opportunities to see different aspects of the company. It’s a great recommendation to other colleagues as it enables us to have a high-quality, experienced team rather than relying on a specific person.

Jason: We make sure that if we have an ongoing case and we know a specific time something related to it will happen, we will reach out directly to our colleague covering that shift to fill them in. Even though our days are usually structured, anything unexpected can still happen. That’s why our job is to try and be prepared before something does. The team is 24/7 and so is this business.

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Source: Maersk

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