When master Inge Hansen Brekke joined Ostensjo Rederi's floatel Edda Fides in February 2020, little did he suspect he was about to become embroiled in the biggest global health crisis for a century.

The 54-year-old captain had first boarded the 600-person accommodation vessel (built 2011) in November 2019, after it had finished work in Malaysia.

While the shipowner sought new work, Brekke headed back to Karmoy in Norway before rejoining three months later.

Ostensjo then decided to bring the vessel back to Europe as it continued to chase a charter.

At Labuan in Malaysia, the hull was cleaned by divers, and the vessel and its crew of 17 prepared for departure.

In early March, the hotel ship weighed anchor and set course west and north.

"We weren’t in a hurry. We planned the voyage for optimal fuel consumption, using mostly just one engine and maintaining a speed of five knots until we rounded South Africa," Brekke said on an account published on the Ostensjo website.

The first leg took the crew to Singapore, where they had planned a changeover.

"It couldn’t be done. The corona pandemic had reached Singapore. But we loaded provisions and bunkered up before sailing to Port Dickson in the Strait of Malacca," Brekke reported.

There, authorities only allowed crew change for the ship's Norwegian seafarers.

"We arrived shortly before they closed down completely. We anchored up outside the harbour, and things went relatively smoothly," the captain said.

Mauritius problem

Spirits were high among the Edda Fides crew, including Ronnie Coops (left) and Hugo Hutinga. Photo: Ostensjo

The Filipino crew members, however, had to stay on board all the way to Norway.

The vessel reached Mauritius four weeks later, where another crew change was planned, including that of Brekke.

Before arrival, however, they received indications that this might prove difficult. As they approached the island, their fears were confirmed. Mauritius was closed.

Provisions were secured, but the crew were now on high alert with regards to contagion from the virus.

"We wore full protective equipment and thoroughly disinfected every piece of provision brought on board, even placing it in quarantine. We accepted no risk," Brekke said.

The crew made the most of the journey and spirits were high.

"We arranged barbecues on the pool deck and were very social. Along the way, we arranged line-crossing ceremonies. Six of the crew members had never crossed the equator, and that occasion has to be celebrated," Brekke said.

"So naturally, King Neptune and his followers came aboard for the ceremony. The crew survived and had to walk the plank at the end, though thankfully, into the pool. It lifted our spirits. We also managed to complete a fair bit of maintenance on board."

The Edda Fiddes never made its next port of call, Durban in South Africa. The crew were told a stop would be impossible.

Cape Town was the next possibility. A container was waiting for the vessel, sent from Norway to Singapore, then Cape Town. The plan was to get it on board and change the crew again.

"On approach, however, we had to resign ourselves to the fact that it couldn’t be done. Not least because the airport was closed — no flights were coming in or going out," the master said.

"At the same time, the crew agreed that it was probably for the best not to go ashore here, given the corona situation."

Officers and company management decided the best thing to do was head for the Canary Islands.

Solution found

"We knew then that it could prove difficult getting flights home. Because of the circumstances, we’d have to face a very circuitous route home, having to stay at hotels in several 'red' countries along the way. Naturally, we were overjoyed when a solution presented itself," Brekke said.

Stores were taken on board the Edda Fides in Mauritius. Crew cleaned every item for fear of Covid-19 contagion. Photo: Ostensjo Rederi

The crew had learned of another company changing its crew in the Canary Islands, having chartered a flight to Amsterdam. There was room on the flight for the Edda Fides team.

"We were very happy with this solution, and with the company for making it happen for us. So we flew to Amsterdam and then directly to Oslo," the master said.

On 19 May, the Edda Fides arrived at Las Palmas in the Canaries.

The change went smoothly for the Norwegians. The crew had been on board 12 weeks.

Captain Brekke went ashore, and replacement master Einar Linga took command as the ship continued northward.