A 1990s newspaper article about Mercy Ships was to be the catalyst for shipbroker Gilbert Walter finding a yard in China to build the charity’s new vessel a decade later.
Walter filed the article away until he opened the Geneva office of Barry Rogliano Salles (BRS) as managing director and saw that Mercy Ships International was not far away in Lausanne. They told him about a project for a new purpose-built ship that would cost up to five times more than the charity could afford.
Korean shipyards were not interested in such a specialised vessel, while European builders quoted cruiseship prices.
“I said the only way to meet the budget was to do it in China, and we offered to guide them. We wanted to protect them because there are so many nasty people around trying to rip off this type of organisation,” says Walter.
He contacted Swedish passengership specialist Stena RoRo, where chief executive Per Westling immediately agreed to get involved. Along with Mercy Ships, the company handled the concept design, Deltamarin teaming up with builder Tianjin Xingang, part of the northern China CSIC Group, on the main design work.
Construction has started one hour east of Beijing. Stena RoRo is organising the on-site supervision team and is providing the site manager.
Xingang, one of 20 yards that bid, has previous experience constructing passengerships for domestic clients.
The Chinese Navy already has a domestically built, albeit much smaller, hospital ship, which was involved in relief operations after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013.
“The dream of founder Don Stephens is that there should be a ship in each ocean” says Walter, but an option on the newbuilding has been allowed to lapse due to the challenge of finding sufficient volunteers.
Mercy Ships used to have three smaller vessels, but managing director Robin MacAlpine says Africa Mercy is more efficient.
However, much more can be achieved when the newbuilding, 1½ times the size of Africa Mercy, arrives. Its hospital will cover two decks instead of one, and there will be more training facilities and much-improved cabin accommodation for the volunteers.
BRS is providing its services free by, it is understood, handing back its brokerage commission in a fundraising Cargo Day (cargo.darwinstaging.com) on 19 October. The shipping and trading community will have the opportunity to contribute during the project, which is being promoted by Geneva-based BRS head of tankers Tim Webb.
The list of participants so far includes Cofco Agri, Trafigura, Wilhelmsen Ship Service, Augusta Energy, Gunvor, Sahara, Riverlake Group, Ocean Shipbrokers, Fearnleys, Tune Product Tankers, Brassington Chartering, Erasmus Shipinvest, IRI Corporate & Maritime Services, the Propeller Club Port of Geneva and Forsea’s.
Charterers can give so-called Mercy Cargoes to shipbrokers or nominate participants (port agents and inspection companies) on a given day, or make a pledge and use their address commissions for the donation.
Shipowners can use income from transporting Mercy Cargoes for their donation pledges, and brokers can pledge commission from the cargoes, while agents and inspection companies can use commissions, after receiving nominations from charterers.
Webb has devoted a lot of time to making Cargo Day a success, visiting Africa Mercy twice this year, once with his wife, meeting up on board with son Oscar, who served as a volunteer for a period after completing his seafarer training in the US.
Westling has also visited Africa Mercy where his daughter Amanda, a first-year medical student, served for three months.
by Geoff Garfield, London
Published in TW+