The venue was filled with a sense of occasion as 14 of Odfjell's seafaring veterans gathered for a reunion in company with two of the Odfjell family members and colleagues from shore.
The Odfjell seafarers who have retired for the past five years were invited to join an afternoon and evening at the historic Hotel Terminus in Bergen. It was a first-time event of its kind and, judging by the spirit of the evening, a very welcomed one.
From left: Chair Laurence Odfjell, Chief Engineer Roger Engan, Captain Olav Thoresen, Captain Bjørn Atle Hågensen, Captain Erling Jarl Stokvik, Chief Engineer Torger Hammersmark, Captain Stig Helge Larsen, Captain Jan-Ove Fredheim, Chief Engineer Per Jarle Bjorøy, Captain Sigurd Fjærestad, Dan Odfjell, Chief Engineer Per Arild Bjørgen, Captain Jan Kåre Næss, Pump Man Isak Pedersen, CEO Harald Fotland, Pump Man Ove Slagstad og Captain John Wang.
From the first second, there was not a single moment of silence – except when Dan Odfjell himself entered the room. The former Odfjell chief is widely regarded as one of the key drivers behind the build-up of the worldwide chemical tanker trade and Odfjell's leading position, and his attendance this evening made it a special reunion.
"I am truly happy to be here to honor all of you who have contributed so much to the company where I worked for 50 years. I feel that we are all a big family. I am grateful to you – I inherited many solid colleagues from my father and many more came to through the years. I know from personal experience that without you, this journey would not have been possible."
"Our company's journey has not been easy, but we today see the results of the hard work everyone has put down.
We should never give up, and never be arrogant. Working together is the key to success, and most important of all is to have the right people.”
A lifetime commitment to the sea
The newly retired seafarers all began their maritime careers when they were 16-17 years old in the 1970s.
When the number of years in service is added up, it shows that these 14 pros have an astonishing 500 years of combined experience on the high seas.
Among the guests were Captains Jan Ove Fredheim and Sigurd Ole Fjærestad. As fate would have it, they both enrolled at the "Sea boys academy" in 1976. The dorm rooms were decided on a last-name basis, so the two F's ended up sharing a room (they both recall getting a much-needed crash course on how to change their bed linens from Jan Ove’s dad on their first evening).
Some twenty years later, they got back together as top officers in Odfjell, where they remained until Sigurd Ole retired in 2020 and Jan Ove earlier this year.
Class from the Sea boys academy, 1976. Jan Ove Fredheim to the right, front row. Sigurd Ole Fjærestad was the photographer.
Sigurd Ole Fjærestad on the bridge in 1986.
This generation of seafarers has sailed through decades of significant change in the shipping industry and the maritime profession. Still, when asked about what they see as success criteria when looking back, the two Captains and Chief Engineer Per Jarle Bjorøy agree on a set of advice that are as relevant for younger generations as it has been for the retirees: "Be open and transparent, be involved, accept and respect each other – regardless of position and experience – and work together."
Captain Sigurd Ole Fjærestad, Chief Engineer Per Jarle Bjorøy and Captain Jan Ove Fredheim.
Later in the evening, Captain Jan Kåre Næss shared anecdotes from his 43 years with Odfjell, including one of the first advice he got from a Captain: "Nothing is impossible; you just have to remove the 'im.' Then everything is possible."
He commended Dan, Laurence and the company for support and generosity, and for providing a safe and challenging workplace through ups and downs ("more ups than downs, for sure"). "Thank you Odfjell, for making the impossible possible."
Greeting from Chair and CEO
The Bergen Shanty Choir got the feet moving with what one guest aptly called "a shanty hit parade" before CEO Harald Fotland, and Chair Laurence Odfjell addressed the seafarers with thanks:
"I'm sure you’ve shaken your head at some of the ideas we have proposed through the years. Fortunately, we could always count on you for constructive feedback. As a result of your qualified input, projects have been improved, altered, and sometimes stopped altogether. This kind of cooperation is something I strongly support, and I hope and believe that you have passed this culture on to the younger generation."
CEO Harald Fotland
Our CEO also took the opportunity to express gratitude to Dan Odfjell for his unique role and contributions to the company and the chemical tanker industry for half a century.
CEO Harald Fotland, Dan Odfjell and Chair Laurence Odfjell.
Harald's collegial appreciation of the seafarers was mirrored by Laurence, who said: "You are a living example of our one principle guiding principle: Safety. By your efforts, experience, competence, and attitude, you are role models," he said, and added:
"Odfjell is today a leader in the chemical tanker segment. We have innovated through cooperation, and we are well prepared for the future because we stand on solid ground with our world-class colleagues at sea and ashore."
Chair Laurence Odfjell
Written by Anngun Dybsland. Photos by Anne Helstein.