Captain Peter Norman boarded the AlgoCanada after his rest rotation back home with his wife and two sons, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was escalating in Canada.
The AlgoCanada is a tanker vessel, owned by St. Catharines-based Algoma Central Corporation, that carries gas and diesel to Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia and Nanticoke, and also delivers petroleum products to Oakville, Montreal and Thunder Bay. The fuel is destined for gas stations in the region.
“We’ve been designated an essential service during this crisis,” says Captain Norman, who is from Pacquet, Newfoundland. “I have 15 crew members on board my ship ranging in age from 22 to 65 and they’re from all over Canada – from Vancouver, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.”
“When I first got on board, everything was really changing. There were so many questions, borders were closing. I was struggling to keep on top of things. I had to just spend an hour and half each day to review all the news and updates. We created a bulletin board where we post anything new from the company.”
Typically, crew members aboard the tanker fleet work 12 months a year, and are on monthly rotations, spending one month onboard and the next month on break.
Algoma Central Corporation had to develop a system to ensure that crew changes could still be safe during the pandemic.
Before returning to the ship, every crew member is screened by Algoma Central’s COVID-19 taskforce through a questionnaire tool similar to those used by Public Health Service Canada. If anyone has COVID-19 symptoms, they are asked to self-isolate at home and provided financial benefits to help support their 14-day quarantine.
“We want to make sure that crew members feel fully supported to stay home if they need to and that they can be completely forthcoming to us about their situation and any symptoms they may be experiencing,” says the 40-year-old Norman.
Algoma Central has contracts with a number of car services to transport its employees, where the cars are being completely disinfected and drivers screened. “If flights are needed, they are practically empty so it’s very easy to social distance.”
Arriving crew members board through the back access of the ship, immediately changing their clothes and having a shower before having any contact with the crew onboard. Then, social distancing kicks in with crew members putting 2 metres between them wherever they can.
“Algoma also suspended shore leave for all crew members, which we were happy about. The reality is we feel safer staying on the vessel,” says Captain Norman.
“Everyone is being very respectful of what has to be done to protect ourselves from COVID-19. A lot of our crew are actually considering staying onboard longer.”
“We’re happy to be working. There’s definitely a sense of pride that we’re essential workers and keeping trade moving.”