By Michael A. Moore
When it comes to maritime safety, Captain Jon Kjaerulff of Fremont Maritime Services is a true believer – and he spreads the gospel of safety with all the fervor of a tent revival preacher.
Captain Kjaerulff started on his mission of not only preaching but teaching maritime safety in a hands-on manner 25 years ago when he founded Fremont Maritime Services.
"In the beginning, it was just me," said Kjaerulff. "There wasn't much money, I was going around to individual fishing boats. Then I approached the North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners' Association and they helped me get contacts, plus we were able to get a joint $20,000 grant from the Seattle Fishermen's Memorial Committee in 1991 to buy a van, a life raft, survival gear and some Coast Guard dewatering pumps. The first time a lot of guys would ever see a dewatering pump was when the vessel was sinking and they had to use it for real."
Jon Kjaerulff's zeal for shipboard safety stems from early in his career, when he was 23 years old, a recent graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, and a mate on a Bering Sea fish processor.
"I was standing my first watch when we picked up an emergency radio message that a fishing boat about nine miles away was foundering, taking on water," he said. "I watched through my binoculars as it was sinking – the fastest our ship could go was eight knots. It took us an hour to get there.
"When we arrived on the scene, the crew was in the frigid water, clinging to an inflatable life raft canister. None of them had any training on how to pull the lanyard to inflate the raft. It was something I've always remembered."
Jon Kjaerulff spent another six years at sea, rising to the rank of Captain, before he decided to make a business from his experience. His last two years of active sailing were spent as Captain of the 155-foot salmon and herring processor Aleutian Dragon, operating in waters throughout Alaska.
"I really saw a need for safety survival training, and for firefighting training," he said. "I looked at the Navy for inspiration – they emphasized hands-on training, designed by sailors for sailors. That's what we do here at Fremont Maritime, we recognize that sailors don't like sitting in class getting all their learning from books."
Capt. Kjaerulff holds a US Coast Guard-issued license as Master of inspected vessels to 1,600 tons, and Chief Mate of inspected vessels of any tons. He is a 1983 graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY, and has sailed as captain and licensed ship's officer on a variety of civilian and naval vessels operating in numerous trades all over the world.
He founded Fremont Maritime Services to provide safety and survival training to mariners sailing in Alaska and along the Pacific Coast.
"My primary focus was the Alaska fishing fleet," said Kjaerulff. "I couldn't believe people would be foolish enough to go into the Bering Sea and not know anything about survival. They had a fatalistic approach that they could learn when the situation was forced upon them.
Fremont Maritime's first fishing vessel safety program was the Survival Afloat Seminar, which was specifically designed to provide training to crews of fishing vessels under 100 feet.
This program delivered packaged training programs directly to the vessel and crew, using actual equipment and training aids to make the training more realistic. In September of 1992, the Survival Afloat Seminar became the first program approved by the Coast Guard as meeting the fishing vessel Drill Conductor training requirements of 46 CFR §28.270 (a) and (c).
A major boost to Fremont Maritime's growth came in the mid-1990s when the company was contracted by the State of California to provide safety training to fishermen in Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Pedro and San Diego.
About that same time, Fremont Maritime partnered with Seattle Maritime Academy from 1994 through 2001, and then moved its fire training facilities to their current location next to the Foss shipyard in Ballard.
The new facilities included the construction of the M/V Fire Dragon, a 135-foot mock-up of a ship made from a combination of WWII ship parts and shipping containers. The Fire Dragon allows students to confront most if not all the firefighting scenarios they may encounter aboard a real ship, from the engine and pump rooms to the helicopter pad. Propane burners provide instant fire and heat, with temperatures reaching up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while smoke generators provide the very real aspect of low and no visibility that makes firefighting even more hazardous.
"When we added the firefighting school, we wanted to create a unique identity so people would remember it," said Kjaerulff. "We decided that India Tango would fit – it means 'I am on fire' in the International Code of Signals."
The India Tango Firefighting School has become one of the most respected programs of its type in the world. It is the only civilian school trusted by the US Navy to teach its firefighting curricula to active duty military personnel. The US Coast Guard has used India Tango to train cutter crews and Marine Inspection Office personnel from across the United States. Many US-flag vessel operators use India Tango exclusively to prepare their crews to prevent, combat, and extinguish fire aboard their ships.
Fremont Maritime has continued to grow steadily, both in terms of courses offered as well as clients. Captain Kjaerulff has expanded the school's curriculum to include classes addressing all aspects of shipboard safety and emergency response, Fremont Maritime's courses are based upon the guidelines of the US Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organization.
Thousands of professional mariners and military personnel annually attend open enrollment programs covering First Aid, Sea Survival, and Basic and Advanced Shipboard Fire Fighting as well as custom programs for towing, fishing, and passenger vessel operators looking to refresh safety and emergency skills, and address specific company and customer training needs.
Anti-piracy workshops are a recent addition to Fremont Maritime's curriculum – the one day classes cover vessel security duties, including maintaining situation awareness, understanding threats and what to do if a watchkeeper sees a situation developing.
Fremont Maritime's client list reads like a Who's Who of the maritime industry. Besides the US Navy and the Coast Guard, Fremont Maritime clients include Trident Seafoods, American Seafoods, Holland America Line, NOAA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Foss Maritime, Crowley Marine Services and many others.
Fremont Maritime Services grew again in January of 2012 when it opened a new maritime training center, located in Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal. The state of the art facility provides mariners an exceptional training environment, with two brand-new classrooms that are more than twice as large as those at Fremont's previous facility. The new school is equipped with large flat-screen monitors, in rooms filled with training aids provided by manufacturers and suppliers.
The new center is popular with Fremont Maritime's mariner clientele – it has exceptional views of Fishermen's Terminal's working docks, watercraft, and the Seattle Fishermen's Memorial. Fremont's students enjoy a number of amenities during breaks, as well as before and after class. For dining they can choose from four restaurants, and within a 100-foot perimeter they can pick up necessities in the minimart, get a haircut, do laundry, and even take a shower after class before that long drive or flight home.
Captain Kjaerulff does not want anyone to think that new and larger accommodations mean that his school is losing its disciplined edge or his fervor for the gospel of safety at sea has cooled. He is still very much in favor of realistic, hands-on training.
"It's about so much more than just sitting in a room long enough to get a certificate," he says. "Students learn more, and are more engaged when you provide them a clean and comfortable training environment. We are already highly regarded for our training content; now we'll be known as the most comfortable place to go to school, too.
"The whole idea behind STCW (Standards for Training and Certification of Watchkeepers) was so the trainee could demonstrate real competency," said Kjaerulff. "In many cases, it has become more about the piece of paper than the competency – too many people have the certification who don't have any hands-on experience."
Captain Jon Kjaerulff feels so strongly about the importance of reality-based, hands on marine safety training that he wrote an article about the subject.
"No single maritime nation has the monopoly on conscientious and qualified vessel operating companies and Mariners," he wrote in the article, titled 'Purity versus Progress'. "Indeed, professionalism can be found on vessels flying virtually any national ensign or shipping company house flag. The STCW Conventions and Treaties were not developed in response to the nations and companies who operate their vessels under the highest of standards. The provisions of STCW 78 and 95 were necessitated by the actions of operators who consistently sought out and operated at or below the lowest levels of cost and compliance.
That article was written more than ten years ago – Captain Kjaerulff insists it is just as valid today as when it was written.
"Certification without training results in only the illusion of standards. Light-handed enforcement is in fact no enforcement at all. When demonstrations of competence give way to demonstrations in box-checking, "formsmanship" takes precedence over seamanship," Kjaerulff says.
"Mariners refine and improve many of their technical skills on a regular basis and achieve high levels of Wcompetence through repeated opportunities for practice. Skills such as shiphandling, navigation, and machinery repair are regular parts of the shipboard routine. Emergency response skills, however, are often discussed, sometimes rehearsed, but rarely put to the test.
He adds, "Today in many cases, the emphasis of training has shifted from demonstrations of competence into demonstrations of compliance. Having the knowledge is considered less important than having the proper paperwork. Certification is equated with, or given priority over qualification. The long-term ramifications of this focus are quite alarming."
Kjaerulff defines Fremont Maritime's mission as making sure the thousands of mariners who pass through the institute's courses come out competent as well as certified. He does not want any of his graduates to have to learn how to pull the lanyard on the life raft when they end up in the frigid waters of the Bering Sea.