Was in the Southern Ocean when the world shut down:
688 days fishing
For the captain of a longliner fishing in Antarctica, this trip was quite extensive.
On 5 November 2019, Arvid Olai Mjønes left Ålesund for New Zealand.
He was to be gone for three months, as captain of the longliner “Nordic Prince” while fishing in Antarctica:
Nordic Prince" in Antarctica, here right up under the ice edge. The boat, which is partly owned by Ervik Havfiske, fishes for toothfish with line. PHOTO: CESAR ACEVEDO
The trip was followed by a three-week research cruise in the South Atlantic.
Then came the pandemic. And the world shut down - in Norway from March 12, 2020. Due to the corona, the fishing trip to Arvid Olai lasted a full 688 days.
Chose to stay on the boat
Travel restrictions, quarantine and infection control made it difficult to travel anywhere. When they were at the quay or at anchor in the port towns, they had to stay on the boat - for weeks at a time.
In consultation with the family, Mjønes decided not to travel half way around the earth home between trips to sea. Time at home would be scarce, with long periods in quarantine.
- I chose to stay on the boat between the seasons, as otherwise I would have had time off. The shipping company has followed up to the best of their ability, they never put any pressure on me, the 51-year-old says.
Home to the family - and a glass of milk.
On Friday 24 September, he was finally able to set foot on Norwegian soil - the day before Norway reopened. He landed on Vigra, via Amsterdam after the flight from South America.
He expected to be confined for quarantine at hotel Scandic Parken, but he escaped that… Instead, it was 72 hours in home quarantine. And wait for test result.
He got the time with his loved ones in the apartment in Kongens gate.
- It was indescribably good to meet them again , he says.
One of the first things he did was take a glass of Norwegian milk.
- I have missed that, and Norwegian food.
Tested negative - went to a football pub
At 19.35 on a Tuesday, the test result ticked in. Negative.
Ten minutes later, he was sitting in a nightclub in the center of Ålesund and watching a football match, with something good in the glass.
- I sat among other people and heard Norwegian again. And met friends I had not met in two years. It was amazing.
- Even though it has also been long and difficult days, time has passed furiously fast , says the experienced sailor. He loves to be at sea, and has had long periods out before. Previously, nine months, when on a mission in Angola, is the longest period away from his family.
At home in Ålesund, he has a wife and an adult daughter. On Averøya he has a large family, which he had not met in almost two years. He has also met them again, including his father of almost 90.
Chasing delicacies from the depths
After many years on offshore vessel, Arvid Olai started as chief mate in the British-Norwegian shipping company Argos Froyanes Limited. The Norwegian part is owned by Ervik Havfiske. The company has several boats engaged in longline fishing for toothfish off Antarctica and in the Southern Ocean.
This fish can weigh several hundred kilos and lives in very deep water. It’s white meat is sought after, not least by restaurants around the world - at a high price:
The toothfish can weigh several hundred kilos and live on the great ocean depths in the Southern Ocean. Here Arvid Olai with a copy of the coveted fish. (Photo:Private)
Sought-after item: Thetoothfish can weigh several hundred kilos and live on the great ocean depths in the Southern Ocean. Here Arvid Olai with a copy of the coveted fish. PHOTO: PRIVATE
The fishing takes place over two seasons during the year, off Antarctica and the archipelago of South Georgia.
Strict infection control everywhere
Stanley in the Falkland Islands is usually the base for Nordic Prince. During the pandemic, the base had to be relocated to Montevideo, Uruguay.
Although the boat has spent months in port there, the crew has not been able to go ashore due to infection control.
Others in the crew did go home on their time off. For those left on the boat, there is quarantine on board, then they have to stay in the cabins.
- It has been demanding, not least for the chef and the fair boy. Then they had to bring all meals to the cabins.
A few have been on board as long as Arvid Olai.
Got the batteries charged in New Zealand
Because they are “only” fishing for six months in a year, the boat does not have two shift crews.
They also visited New Zealand on the trips.
- There life went almost as usual, with few restrictions. And we could go ashore.
- Had it not been for the three months in New Zealand, I would not have stayed that long. Then I got to charge the batteries, he says.
Top modern vessels
The boat is state of the art, it was new in 2018. On board there is, among other things, high-speed internet, gym, sauna - and very good food.
- We have a very good time on board, with all facilities, with TV and refrigerator in the cabin.
While the rest of the world shut down and they read disaster stories in the online newspapers, the boat became a kind of sanctuary.
- The boat became my corona-free habitat , says Arvid Olai.
In Uruguay, for a period, 3,000 new infections occurred daily in the capital alone.
hey did not get ashore and almost no one was allowed on board.
- If we had people from outside to carry out the necessary maintenance and repairs, there was strict infection control. We have infection control suits and all equipment on board.
Throughout the period, the Nordic prince and his crew managed to avoid covid-19.
There are 23 in the crew, out of nine nationalities. In addition, two observers are involved in the strictly regulated, and also controversial, fishing for toothfish.
The fishing boats travel over enormous distances, in a deserted and rough sea area:
It takes several weeks to travel between the ports and the fishing grounds in the Southern Ocean. The base in the Falkland Islands had to be relocated to Uruguay in South America during the pandemic. (Photo: Staale Wattø)
The boat is specially designed for sailing in icy waters.
For long periods, fish and penguins are the only others to be seen. Much of the fishing takes place in the Ross Sea and the Amundsen Sea.
The landscape is unique, and something few people get to experience. But there is also a lot of hard weather.
At times, they are so far away from civilization that it will take many days and thousands of nautical miles to reach the nearest port.
- On board we are like a family. It is an experienced and highly trained crew , says the skipper, who are the only Norwegian on board the Nordic Prince.There are a few other Norwegians on the boats in the shipping company.
When the fishing is on, time goes by itself. Otherwise, they watch movies, or make time go another way. When under way they have also had barbecues on deck, when it has been sunny and summer.
Proud of his profession
He has been interested in sea life and fishing since his boyhood on the shore of Averøya. Both his father and grandfather were seamen.
He took his maritime education in Ålesund, and chose to settle in the city.
Arvid Olai on the bridge, with the Antarctic ice right outside the window. He works as chief mate and captain in the British-Norwegian shipping company Argos Froyanes Limited. (Photo: Private)
Arvid Olai has used social media diligently to inform celebrities about life in the Southern Ocean.
There were so many who wondered how I was doing. So, bottom line is that I think Facebook is the right place to go.
He is proud of his profession, as a fisherman, sailor and hunter.
Although I am one of the few who have been away from home during the entire pandemic, there were many others who were stuck abroad when the world closed down.
-One need not go back so many decades, when it was common for Norwegian seafarers to be gone for both one and two years.
He was not afraid of getting sick himself.
- I was more worried about those here at home, he says.
He has seen a lot of poverty and distress on his travels in the world, not least in Africa.
- We Norwegians are very privileged. I am not complaining. We are doing very well on the boat.
Will be going on another trip soon
At the end of October, he goes on a new trip, this time with one of the Nordic Prince’s sister ships.
He has a lot to arrange before he leaves. Trips on Sukkertoppen and Aksla, and to Averøya.
-Eat clipfish (Baccalao), whale meat or saithe in good company - or meet friends and acquaintances. for sausage and mashed potatoes at Stuen Fast Food
- But I do not have time to meet everyone. You get in a time crunch.
Much that needs to be arranged
Lots of practicality has piled up. Required medical check, dental visit, new passport and other things must be arranged.
The first vaccine is set, the next he reaches before he leaves.
At the end of October, Arvid Olai Mjønes goes on a new trip.
- Hopefully the world is a little more normalized when I return next time.
This time he reckons it will be three months from home, plus-minus.
-The world is hopefully even more normalized, the next time he comes ashore.
The love of the wife - and the maritime life. He does not refuse to go, because the maritime is life itself.
- But it would not have happened without my wife. Not many ladies had agreed to sit at home and wait so long.
He thinks it’s wrong to talk about everything you’ve missed in the last two years.
- It’s getting too destructive. We should rather make the best of the time we have together.
Read for a new trip. FOTO: STAALE WATTØ