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Frank Broeksma on being a heavylift and cargo vessel master

1 December 2023

Master and Nautilus member of nearly 40 years Frank Broeksma was elected to Nautilus Council in 2023. He explains what the captain's role really is, and the importance of a peer mentor

I am a master for MF Shipping Group, from Delfzijl in The Netherlands. For the past 12 years, I have been sailing mainly on the self-discharger* Vestanhav, owned by Swedish shipping company Erik Thun AB. (*Self-discharging vessels are those able to self-discharge bulk cargoes).

As captain you are responsible for crew, ship, and cargo (in that order) and you also have to ensure that the voyage is completed in a safe and economic way. But when people ask me what I do onboard I usually answer that I make sure that the others onboard can do their jobs properly, meaning that they have all the tools and materials available; that they can work in a safe and healthy way; and that they can work in a good atmosphere. Unfortunately, administration also takes a big part of my time these days.

What originally attracted you to a career in maritime?
Between 1974 and 1978, when I was aged between 14 and 18 years old, my family and I lived in the north of the Netherlands, near all the shipyards in the province of Groningen. So, I guess that my passion for ships and the maritime business was sparked during this period.

No one else in my immediate family were seafarers, except for possibly a distant ancestor on my mother's side.

Tell us about some of your career highlights and challenges

Looking back at my career I suppose the moment I started was a highlight, and later, promotions to a higher rank – that’s always challenging and exciting!

I have also taken four brand new ships from their ‘place of birth’ to sea for the first time. It's the best way to get to know your ship inside out.

I guess for a lot of seafarers, being away from friends and family for a long time is a big challenge. I was lucky that there were never any big problems at home to worry about while at sea. During voyages, I was in what you could call a 'real emergency' only once, when we lost the rudder in a gale force 10 wind while sailing down the lower St. Lawrence. That could have ended in disaster, but we were safely towed to Halifax after the wind had dropped so it all ended well.

Who has helped you the most in your career, and why?

Mostly, the people I sailed with on my first one or two ships. They can make you or break you. I was lucky because I was well taken care of and they taught me the basics of being a seafarer and navigator.

I met a few negative people later in my career, but by that time I could handle them.

I am still particularly grateful for the guidance of a former captain 30 years ago. I was sailing with him when the news came that I would be promoted to master, and that I was supposed to take over from him two weeks later. He took the time during those weeks to teach me all the ins and outs of a master's job. It made the transition from chief officer to captain so much easier.

How long have you been a member of Nautilus?

I joined around 1984/1985. It was a very uncertain and troubled period in Europe. The company I worked for wasn't doing very well. Joining a union proved a good idea, because our company later went bankrupt in January 1987 while we were at anchor in Singapore. Thanks to Nautilus I was able to get back home, and eventually I also received all the money I was owed.

I have been a member of the Council since the 2023 elections, and in October 2023 I attended my first General Meeting in Liverpool.

What is the one change that would make the biggest positive difference to your job as a maritime professional?

I would like governments and local authorities to be more aware of seafarers' existence. The Covid-19 pandemic was an extreme example of how authorities can act as if we are not there, but there are so many more examples of complete ignorance by authorities when it comes to recognising that there are flesh and blood people working on board ships.

What do you like doing in your free time?

My wife and I have two dogs (Finnish Lapphunds) that we like to take on long walks, as we like to be outdoors. We also like to spend time with our grandchildren.

What is your favourite place you have visited?

South Korea is where I met my wife, and this month we celebrate our 36th anniversary. But South Korea is a very nice county to visit anyway. They have a very old and rich culture and I love the food.

Tell us one thing that people may not know about you.

If there was such a thing, I would probably prefer to keep it that way!

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