Greta Thunberg, 16, made Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Good for her, and I mean it. While Time Magazine and most people, from Brazil to Israel, are focusing on her climate-change advocacy, I’m honing in on her recent maritime accomplishment.
Scandinavians have a good relationship with the oceans. Since Leif Eriksson and his Vikings made a transatlantic voyage, citizens of the Baltic Sea have dominated and improved the maritime arts. Norwegian-born Andrew Furuseth (1854-1938) spearheaded legislation for the benefit of American merchant mariners. Scandinavian merchant ship officers and crew were a common sight in ports around the world. Britain, France, and America had colonies and overseas territories as natural customers for their merchant fleets; Baltic ships sailed not for empire, but for trade. In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific Ocean onboard Kon-Tiki, a primitive raft. Scandinavian mariners have disappeared in the past quarter-century, displaced by ship’s crews from the Philippines and India.
This summer, Greta Thunberg and her father sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-equipped sailboat. Modern navigation and life safety equipment made her voyage less perilous than her Swedish ancestors. Nevertheless, it is an uncommon feat, which puts her in the realm of modern explorers.
In the age of low-cost jet travel, crossing the Atlantic Ocean by sea has become a lost art. During the “Atlantic cruising season”, the summer months of placid waves, Cunard Lines alone sails the once-renowned Southampton, UK to New York City route. As late as the 1960’s, a variety of passenger ships crossed the Atlantic, year-round: Pounding through Winter North Atlantic’s 40-foot waves is the exact definition of “buyer beware”, a trip for brave and hearty souls to endure. By sailing for the Mediterranean instead of the North Sea, I have not done a true Winter North Atlantic run. The experience, however, is what put “hair on the chest” of classmates who made container-ship runs to Belgium in the middle of winter.
Scandinavians Built the Modern Maritime Industry
The Danish conglomerate AP Moller Maersk dominates sectors of shipping ranging from the offshore oil industry to massive container ships. This portfolio includes some American-crewed vessels under its subsidiary Maersk Lines Limited. Kongsberg, based in Norway, builds training simulators for aspiring ship’s masters and harbor pilots. Norway’s Bergen Marine has built ship’s diesel engines since World War Two, decades before American shipbuilders transitioned from steam to diesel propulsion. Swedish company GAC, a ship husbandry firm, negotiates with beady-eyed port officials around the world on behalf of ship-owners. Germany’s Fassmer builds modern enclosed lifeboats: SS El Faro, an American steamship lost in 2015, did not have this lifesaving equipment. The International Maritime Organization, which has in essence propagated maritime safety regulations since 1913, is based in London. Not quite Scandinavia, but near the North Sea.