Liquefied natural gas (LNG) wasn’t a factor on his first voyage as an apprentice. But now Henning Dost knows all about it and sails for Hapag-Lloyd as a captain. An encounter in Hamburg’s Neustadt district
The older captains have much more to say than someone like me,” says Henning Dost during our first phone conversation. Two days later, it quickly becomes apparent that he was understating things a bit. One piece of evidence for this is the watch that the 33-year-old captain is wearing on his wrist. He – along with Captain Florian Böttger and three other colleagues – were given these special firefighter watches by Hapag-Lloyd’s Executive Board for their heroic efforts on board the burning “Yantian Express”. The fire on the vessel 800 miles off Halifax made headlines in 2019. Böttger, who had been the captain on duty at the time, has also shared his memories of the incident in the “Logbook”. Dost was the chief officer on board and, together with an ordinary seaman, was the first to investigate the situation on the forecastle in the middle of the night and to initiate fire-fighting operations.
We meet with Dost in Hamburg’s Neustadt district not far from the port. “I moved here just before the first pandemic lockdown, had a lot of time to walk around, and was able to explore my neighbourhood at my leisure,” he says. Just a few minutes’ walk away are St. Michael’s Church, one of the Hamburg’s landmarks known by locals as the “Michel”, as well as the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Ties with the port can be found everywhere you look in Neustadt. The heritage-listed “Ledigenheim”, where unmarried dockworkers and seafarers once lived, is on Dost’s street. In the adjacent Portuguese Quarter, countless restaurants run by descendants of Portuguese and Spanish seafarers invite you to feast. And the Schiffszimmerer-Genossenschaft, a residential cooperative originally founded for ship carpenters in 1875, still provides affordable housing today. “Living so close to the port is a stroke of luck,” Dost says.
Henning Dost, Captain
“LNG behaves completely differently from heavy fuel oil, is highly flammable and has to be cooled continuously to minus 158 degrees Celsius. And bunkering is different, too. All of this has to be kept in mind now when it comes to ship safety.”
Dost was particularly impressed by the time he spent in Shanghai in late 2020 while the “Sajir” was in dry dock there to have its new LNG tank installed. “My stay in Shanghai lasted three and a half months,” he explains. “In addition to the complex installation of the 1,300-tonne LNG tank, we also had our five-year classification renewal done and supervised all the painting work. After all that, you know your ship inside and out!”
In September 2021, right afterturning 31, Dost received a call from Hapag-Lloyd’s headquarters in Hamburg. “I had already signalled that I felt ready,” he says, so he had a feeling the call could be about his promotion to captain. In November 2021, he received the coveted epaulettes and met all the higher-ups in the headquarters – which was done online owning to pandemic restrictions – with three colleagues before boarding the “Osaka Express” in Hamburg in December. It was a funny coincidence, too, as that had been his first ship as an officer of the watch. “As soon as I was appointed captain, I was told that I would be heading straight for a shipyard in Dubai for the ship’s 15-year check,” he recounts, adding with a laugh that dry dock stays were something he was already quite familiar with.
“You’re obviously still a bit nervous on your first tour as a captain, but your colleagues ultimately know that, too, and don’t make it needlessly hard for you. And I was very grateful for that.”
Henning Dost has now already completed four voyages as a captain, and LNG is something that he works with every day. At the moment, he is part of the regular crew of the “Brussels Express”, formerly known as the “Sajir”. “In addition to performing normal ship operations, we are a training vessel, so to speak, for Hapag-Lloyd captains and engineers preparing for the 23,660 TEU newbuildings of the new ‘Hamburg Express’ class, which feature dual-fuel propulsion,” Dost notes. “Even though the IGF training means extra work for us, it’s still fun to share our experience with LNG and we also learn by interacting with our colleagues.” But seafaring hasn’t only changed in terms of fuel, Dost continues, adding: “For example, we only know long berthing times from stories, our shore excursions are extremely short, and all the terminals are more or less the same these days.” What fascinates Dost so much about seafaring is all the different tasks it encompasses. “Navigation, managing and organising personnel, the technology on board, the cargo, communication with internal and external stakeholders, nautics and weather – I don’t know of any other profession that offers so much variety,” he says.