When Maersk Handler arrived in Lowestoft (UK) on 20th January 2022, it was no ordinary crew change, as it marked Captain Alasdair Matheson’s final disembarkment from a Maersk Supply Service Vessel. Known to many as Captain Ali, Captain Alasdair Matheson is now retiring after a phenomenal 40 years at Maersk Supply Service – and in his 50th year at sea. His crew marked the occasion with cake and ‘Team Ali’ t-shirts.
From Captain Alasdair Matheson
My career at sea started on 6th November 1972, when I started a pre-sea course in South Shields, where I now live. So this is my 50th year at sea.
I joined my first ship in Genoa, where we loaded a cargo of fuel oil for a port in Denmark, a power station around the Little Belt. At 64,000 tons deadweight, this vessel had been the largest in the world at one point. I particularly remember being posted to the bridge wing on lookout duties whilst going through the English Channel, as there was freezing fog and the ship didn’t have an operational radar.
After completing my cadetship, I moved to another tanker company, who operated two 500,000-ton deadweight tankers, both of which had been the biggest ships in the world at the time they were built. Their biggest single cargo tank was 68,000 tons, so bigger even than total DWT of my first ship.
On 5th May 1982, I joined my first Maersk Supply Service vessel in Haugesund, Norway. This was the platform supply vessel Maersk Pacer – not one of the P-type AHTSs people at MSS will know today.
During my time with Maersk Supply, I’ve been lucky enough to be appointed to 2 newbuilds: Maersk Beater and Maersk Involver. At the other end of the spectrum, I was Chief Officer on the Maersk Cutter when she was involved in the sad occasion of the Piper Alpha disaster.
I’ve seen many changes to the maritime industry throughout my career. The biggest developments have been computers and communications, although I’m not always sure they have always been changes for the better – we managed quite well without them 40 years ago. It’s certainly a lot easier writing handover notes on a computer, but we also end up responding to increasing demands for filling in forms and checklists. Communications were taken care of by sending a letter during a port call, or the odd radio telephone call if reception was good enough.
I’ve spent most of my time on anchor-handling vessels and there have of course been developments in the equipment we use – mainly, it’s all just got bigger, but the basic principles haven’t changed. That said, there was one particular development that changed every anchor-handling operation: the introduction of shark jaws. I joined the Maersk Rover not long after she was built, although shark jaws were not fitted until she was almost a year old. This meant we had the dangerous and heavy job of fitting pelican hooks whenever we needed to secure something, so the shark jaws were a definite improvement.
The most important thing I’ve got to say about my time with Maersk Supply Service is that it’s the people I’ve been fortunate enough to sail who have really made it – they will always be the company’s greatest asset. In the 30 odd years I’ve been Captain, it’s the teams on the ship who have supported me and who have enabled me to do my job.