Pirates of the Caribbean Captain Jack Sparrow, Peter Pan villain Captain Hook, Jules Verne's Captain Nemo: Stories about captains and their ships on the high seas have been around forever. The team of the Luxembourg Maritime Affairs Commissariat reveals what everyday life on board really looks like – and it has little to do with uniforms and icebergs.
Far away from water and even quite high above sea level, there is a commissariat that you would not expect to find in Luxembourg. The “Commissariat aux affaires maritimes” is located on the 6th floor of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and has been dealing with everything to do with shipping in salt waters since 1990. Commissioner Robert Biwer proudly presents the photo of the very first Luxembourg captain who worked here: Joël Mathieu. “Today, our register counts a total of 215 ships, including 210 that sail under Luxembourgish flag”, Biwer explains.
Among the large shipping companies that have settled in Luxembourg over the years are names such as “Jan De Nul” or “CLdN Cobelfret” and the commissariat is also well equipped with 18 employees, six of whom have studied their profession in maritime transport and two of whom are lawyers of maritime law. The team also includes Jonathan Schmit, Noe Wolter and Bob Koullen. All ex-students of the Maritime Academy “Hogere Zeevaartschool” in Antwerp, the three employees not only share the same offices, but also the same passion for ships. As the oldest of the bunch, Jonathan Schmit has known the industry the longest, having spent nine years as an officer on the high seas.
From cadet to officer
“I wanted to be a captain from an early age”, the 33-year-old recalls. Even as a young lad, Jonathan loved vacations with his parents at the seaside, and at 16 he held his first boat license in his hands. Ten years later, the North Sea and Irish Sea were his stomping grounds. Four years of studies including a one-year master, as well as another year of navigation got Jonathan the rank of officer. “You start as a cadet, which is an apprentice on the ship, until you complete your twelve months and then you become a junior officer.” In the beginning, he said, you just do about any work on board, then follow the second and third officers wherever they go to help and learn.
The different titles are subject to a strict hierarchy, as the staff of the commissariat explain: “The third officer is responsible for safety on board, i.e. everything that concerns safety, firefighting and lifesaving. Then there's maintenance and inspection. The second is in charge of navigation, equipment, charts, medicine and voyage planning. The first officer is at the top of the hierarchy, everything from sailors to cooks is under his command. He's responsible for cargo ship safety and handles everything related to cargo operations and supervision of the lower officers.”
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