"CAN I JUSTIFY THIS TO MY PEOPLE?"
The ‘stop the job’ decision is not made lightly. For Ronny Guldentops, captain of the AHTS President Hubert, his team’s safety took priority.
On a pitch-black night in February, the President Hubert sails out, mobilised by Salvage. A ship is in trouble off the British coast; the crew is waiting for rescue. “It was already wind force nine when we set out, and the wind was supposed to pick up more,” says Ronny Guldentops. When they arrive in daylight, they see how the ship is lurching back and forth like a toy on the waves. The crew immediately shoots a line over. It is the beginning of a rescue action that, after a series of setbacks, ends hours later with a heavy disappointment: the line is snapped by a monster wave. The men of the Hubert are back to where they started.
What does it do to you?
Ronny: “First we had to process this disillusionment. And then I started to think: Do I want a repeat of this situation in the night? Can I justify this to my team? But what about my responsibility towards the other ship? That’s when I called everyone together. We are a team and everyone’s opinion has equal value. No one said they wanted to stop; the decision was up to me. Ultimately, I decided to suspend the operation until the weather improved. Because the main thing is ‘your own crew’s safety first’.” The Hubert stayed in the area to be able to provide assistance as necessary. The next day, the job was done in calmer weather.
Looking back, Ronny says: “You wouldn’t wish such a dilemma on anyone.” What helped is that he knew he was supported by his team, by the office and by the words of the other captain: “I’ve seen your ship, I’ve seen your crew, I’ve seen your manoeuvre, I’ve seen it all and I understand.” According to first mate Geert Stenger, this support stems from the confidence in Ronny. “I know that he never pushes the limits.”
How do you build that confidence?
Ronny: “You have to earn trust. What I do is give the team responsibility. I try to teach the guys something by having them do it themselves. I give them room to make their own mistakes, but I am always there. Giving responsibility is not the same as giving up responsibility.”