MT Thun London sailing in Irish Sea

Simon Grainge (Chief Executive ISWAN) sailing with the Thun London

Simon Grainge, ISWAN's Chief Executive since June 2021 had the opportunity to live aboard our managed tanker, the mt Thun London, and experience the life of a seafarer. In this article he takes you on his adventure at sea. 

"In February 2024, MF Shipping Group kindly arranged for me to spend some time on one of their vessels to experience life on board. After 2.5 years as Chief Executive of a maritime welfare organisation, I felt I owed it to the seafarers to better understand their working environment, even if only for a week. 

Firstly, I would like to thank everyone involved for their support in making my trip a success. I felt genuinely welcome and am particularly grateful for the generosity of everyone on board who took the time to tell me about the life of a seafarer. This is an account of my experiences with some reflections along the way."

First days on board

I was due to board the MT Thun London at Pembroke Dock and was advised that it would be best to join the ship during the day. However, as any Brit knows, Sunday is not a good day to travel in the UK. My 4 hour train journey turned into an 8 hour journey.

After a long journey I stumbled across the gangway and was met by a member of the crew who took me straight to the bridge. There I met the Captain and Chief Officer who greeted me and I was shown to my cabin and then taken to the galley for something to eat and drink. I immediately felt that I was among professionals and that this was going to be a good trip. I was introduced to the cook who, with a big Filipino smile and a few questions about whether my cabin had everything I needed, quickly produced a meal. 

Simon Grainge, Chief Executive ISWAN

After dinner I went back to the bridge where I spent a pleasant hour with the Captain, Chief Officer and Chief Engineer drinking coffee and getting to know what to expect from my time on board. I've met a lot of seafarers before, but never at their place of work, so I was already able to piece together how the ship worked, and everyone seemed happy to answer my naive questions. 

The next day I got up early and made my way to the galley for breakfast, where I met more of the crew. I was then issued with overalls, jacket and helmet and given a tour of the ship by the third officer. It was fascinating to see the equipment and machinery that a modern tanker needs and to understand how it all works. I was particularly impressed by the emphasis on the safety of the crew, the cargo and the local environment, but the Captain had made it very clear that the safety of his crew was always his first concern.  

"The Captain had made it very clear that the safety of his crew was always his first concern"

Talking with the crew

During my days on board I had the opportunity to speak to all the crew members and they all had different stories to tell. One crew member was only 10 days from the end of his contract and feeling really good about it; another was only 2 weeks into his and stoically carrying on. Some had young families to think about, others didn't. Some were happy to be seafarers and would continue for as long as they could, others were thinking about something else for the future. For someone used to living on land and being able to move around as much as I wanted, the ship felt small. As a novice, it was all interesting, but I could see how the relentless cycle of work and living and working in the same place could take its toll.  

Good food = Happy Crew

After a few days I realised that there was something about the location of my cabin that meant I could smell each meal as it was being cooked and I found myself thinking about food far more than was good for me. The cook provides 3 meals a day for every day of his 6 month contract, seemingly without complaint. When I asked him about it, he said, "It's my life. He goes above and beyond the call of duty, baking bread and cakes and varying the menu. He is an essential part of a happy ship and I was personally very happy to have him on board.

Cook on board

The atmosphere on board

After a few days I was particularly interested in seafarers' perceptions of bullying and harassment, which is a hot topic these days. These terms mean different things to all of us, depending on our cultural backgrounds and life experiences. I saw a relaxed, respectful and calm environment and could not imagine anything else being tolerated on board this particular ship, but it was not hard to imagine it being different with a different group of people. I can see that the impact of any bullying or harassment would be enormously magnified in such an environment, so the issue needs to be taken seriously. I could also see that any interventions to prevent bullying and harassment would need to be well thought out if they were to be effective in this unique environment. 

Seafarers training


At ISWAN, our work is to promote and support the welfare of seafarers and so we hear many grim stories from around the world of exploitation, bullying, abandonment, piracy and the criminalisation of seafarers. We run projects and programmes to promote the health and well-being of seafarers, provide helplines for seafarers who are struggling and emergency funds in the event of a crisis, so our focus is inevitably on what is wrong with the maritime sector. I learnt very little about these issues on this voyage because the ship was expertly managed, well maintained and properly supported, with a huge emphasis on safety. 

Lessons learned

The big lesson for me was that all these things are possible if the will is there. With all the privations associated with seafaring, does it not make sense to do what you can to support your workforce? I'm very aware that I've only seen a limited snapshot of life at sea and that what I've seen is not comparable to the experience of most seafarers, but it will still be very valuable in my work. The experience will stay with me for a long time and has given me a lot to think about. 

Simon Grainge sailing with the Thun London