Listen: Behind the scenes of Logos Hope

In the fourth episode of the Ganado Meets Transport podcast, Nigel Micallef, associate within the shipping team at Ganado Advocates, speaks with Randy Grebe, managing director at GBA Ships, and Captain James Berry, to discuss the operations of GBA and the recent return of the MV Logos Hope to Malta.

The concept behind GBA Ships and MV Logos Hope

Randy Grebe, managing director at GBA Ships, says that the GBA Ships’ founder had an interest in books and education. MV Logos was the first ship operated by the charity which incorporated the founder’s interest and represented a new and more efficient way to transport books across various countries and continents. This concept was met with a positive response and exceeded the company’s expectations, resulting in thousands of people visiting the ship.

What is GBA striving to achieve through its operations?

With reference to the company’s name, GBA stands for ‘good books for all’ and Grebe holds that this is “because [they] believe that leaders are readers and readers are leaders”. Ultimately, the company maintains that there is power in reading and education which is signified through GBA Ships being the largest floating book fair in the world and also being in line with GBA’s mission statement, being that of: Sharing knowledge, help and hope.

During COVID-19, unlike other passenger ships, GBA’s ships continued to sail and sell books around the world, in order to bring relief to those countries that were badly affected by the pandemic and other environmental disasters.

Grebe explains that on visiting such countries, for example, an island in the Bahamas which was hit by one of the strongest hurricanes in history, the crew would assist the community with simple, yet essential needs, such as housing repairs. He said that communities that experience these kinds of disasters need hope and GBA Ships aims to achieve this through their projects.

The acquisition of MV Logos Hope

When explaining the acquisition procedure, Captain James Berry noted how the GBA vessel acquisition team looked for used ships, particularly passenger ships, through a ship broker. The Logos Hope, or as it was known previously Rona, was built in 1973 as a Ro-Ro ferry and operated from Denmark for most of her working life. Due to being a Ro-Ro ferry, the vessel had to undergo an extensive renovation to be converted to the Logos Hope as it is known today.

GBA Ships’ working relationship with the Maltese registry

“We could not pick a better company, a better organisation, a better nation than Malta,” Grebe says.

Grebe highlights the consistency and support which characterises the long-standing relationship between GBA Ships and the Maltese Registry. Furthermore, the managing director also comments on how the Maltese agencies and authorities have facilitated the team in all their ventures with ease.

The recruitment of volunteers and crew

The majority of the crew onboard the GBA vessels are volunteers. GBA has two yearly intakes of volunteers who have to undergo a screening process to assess their suitability.

GBA Ships also runs the ‘Marine Training Centre’, which is tasked with teaching basic marine courses. Following every volunteer intake, the Marine Training Centre’s team is flown out to the ship to perform a training course for the volunteers. Following the training course, the volunteers would sign on as trainees and would then have to undergo a sea-time reduction course. At the one-year mark, there would then be further training by the Marine Training Centre’s team.

While two years is the standard duration of a volunteering period, Grebe notes that some of the volunteers end up staying a lot longer than that. Some volunteers have even worked in multiple departments on board and built up a range of skills in various areas.

Ensuring compliance with the latest technological developments and latest legal and environmental requirements

GBA Ships engages a technical team which is tasked with reviewing new regulations and assessing what needs to be done to remain compliant. However, it is worth noting that certain regulations cover vessels tasked with commercial operations and thus GBA would be exempted from complying, given that, as an NGO, GBA falls outside the scope of such regulations. GBA Ships relies on its good working relationship with the Maltese flag state for advice and assistance in ensuring that the ship can sail in line with all requirements.

The impact of COVID-19

Grebe describes the team’s view on COVID-19’s impact using an analogy: “When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade. So, we made the best of what we could”.

GBA Ships took advantage of the lockdown by giving extra training and initiatives, with focus on community. When the world started returning to normality, and after the whole team managed to get vaccinated, MV Logos Hope was able to start visiting different countries and aid in humanitarian and disaster relief.

GBA Ships’ future

Shedding light on GBA’s future, Grebe speaks about the acquisition of another ship which is intended to sail around South-East Asia, with Logos Hope to remain sailing “this side of the world”. The vision of GBA will remain consistent as its relevance to the world is still very evident, he says.

This article was first published in the Times of Malta (7 October 2022).