Moritz Hector has been sailing for Hapag-Lloyd as a third engineer for one and a half years. Here he speaks about his fascination with seafaring, his love of engines, and why he chose to meet at the MS “Bleichen” for our interview.
His mother served as a chief mate on the bridge; his father worked below deck as an engineer; and his godmother, Helga, sailed as a captain. With a pedigree like that, can you really become anything other than a seafarer? With a laugh, Moritz Hector responds: “I couldn’t imagine it when I was a little kid, as I was interested in birds and nature and wanted to become an ornithologist. But, when I was 14, my father took me along on a voyage from Brisbane to Auckland, where he worked as an inspector. When I stepped onto the deck of the ship for the first time, it didn’t take a second: I had made up my mind to go to sea.”
A school internship at the Blohm+Voss shipyard followed. And immediately after graduating from high school, the Hamburg native submitted an application to Hapag-Lloyd for an apprenticeship to qualify as a ship mechanic. Bridge or engine room? That was not the issue, Hector says, adding: “I wanted to keep both options open, so I opted for the ship-mechanic training. That’s where you learn everything you need for seafaring – and for life in general.” Hector had also developed some dexterity with his hands and tools from his time at one of the Waldorf schools, which have a focus on practical skills and creativity. “There was a lot of emphasis on hands-on work, and we even had our own blacksmith’s shop in the school,” he says.
For the interview, we have agreed to meet at the MS “Bleichen”, a general cargo ship built in 1958, which is moored in the Hamburg’s Hansa port, right next to German Port Museum. “I’m not doing much volunteer work here at the moment, but I regularly helped out during my apprenticeship and while I was studying in Flensburg,” Hector proudly notes before inviting me to join him for a brief tour. The wood-panelled captain’s chambers, featuring separate living and sleeping quarters, is kept in an almost original state. And the speaking tube from the bridge directly to the captain’s bed is still in place. The bridge, radio room and officer’s recreation room exude the charm of the 1950s. “In 2007, I was allowed to lend a hand when the ‘Bleichen’ was towed to the Norderwerft repair shipyard for restoration work,” the 28-year-old says. “From the open deck, you could look down into the engine room.”
As much as he likes the vintage cargo ship, Hector admits that he likes to work a bit more on container ships, with their modern technology, saying: “Whether it’s maintenance work, cleaning machinery or completely disassembling and reassembling engines, I like to do minor and major repairs as part of a team – as that’s when I’m in my element!” Which engines are better? Those made by Sulzer or by MAN? The technophile also debates this issue with passion, explaining: “A lot of people prefer MAN engines, but I find Sulzer’s more interesting, even if they are a bit more complicated to work with.”
Whoever wants to experience more of this enthusiasm only has to browse through the third engineer’s online blog “A seafarer’s view”, which he writes in English. Here you will find stories about his everyday work life at sea, portraits of colleagues, and photos with which the amateur photographer documents his voyages. Although he hasn’t posted for a while, Hector’s blog describes what life is like on board with great attention to detail. With his writing talent, he has even made it onto Hapag-Lloyd’s homepage. There, on the “Career” page, you can find a report he wrote on his first solo voyage on the “Glasgow Express”. “That voyage was unforgettable,” Hector says. “The crew on board clicked incredibly well, and I made some real friends. And even though the ‘Glasgow Express’ was a bit on the old side and we were kept rather busy, we still had a fantastic time.” This voyage included his first passage through the Panama Canal, his first equator crossing, shore excursions in Cartagena and Valparaíso, and swimming in the Dominican Republic. He also celebrated his 20th birthday on board. “The four months flew by!”
Hector has been sailing for Hapag-Lloyd as a third engineer for 18 months. He has sailed to India on the “Prague Express” and then twice to South America on the “Rotterdam Express”. “On the last voyage, I embarked in Norfolk, then went down to Brazil, then across to the other side to Chile and Ecuador, and then back again,” Hector says. “The exciting part was the passage through the Strait of Magellan. With outside temperatures of barely five degrees, you sail past snow-covered mountain peaks. It’s quite impressive!”
The pandemic made shore excursions virtually impossible, and this period was especially hard for his Filipino colleagues. “Their sailing times are longer anyway, and some of them couldn’t be relieved due to the many lockdowns across the world,” Hector says, though he also notes that the crew got through it quite well with film and game evenings. “On one of the last voyages, we had a lot of musicians on board,” he continues. “The two officers of the watch played drums, the electrician knew how to play several instruments, and most Filipinos are musical in any case. So we had a real band, and it played music regularly.”
Hector doesn’t have to go back to sea until the beginning of next year, so he is thinking about picking up his saxophone again for a bit of practice. Or maybe he will write another blog post or two. The likeable man only needs one more month of sailing time before he can become a second engineer, and he’ll be able to log that time on his next voyage. But regardless of when he is promoted, Hector is certain of one thing: “Going to sea was the best decision of my life!”