My name is Mathieu Leroy. I am a Merchant Navy Officer (“Lieutenant Polyvalent” in France) working on CMA CGM vessels. I’m French.
Which containership are you on at the moment and what route?
At the moment I am not working on a vessel, but the last one I sailed was the CMA CGM FORT STE MARIE. The line then connected mainland France (Dunkirk, Rouen, Le Havre and Montoir de Bretagne) to the French West Indies (Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe), Fort de France (Martinique), Pointe-à-Pitre. A complete rotation takes 28 days and normally we do two rotations (56 days).
How long have you been working for CMA CGM?
I’ve been working for CMA CGM since September 2011 (I had already done a two-month stint aboard as a cadet in November and December 2008). From September 2011 to June 2012, I sailed on different vessels (CMA CGM FORT ST GEORGES, CMA CGM CHOPIN, CMA CGM AMERIGO VESPUCCI, CMA CGM PUCCINI) as a Merchant Navy Officer Cadet to validate my officer diploma. Then from September 2012 to September 2013 I spent a year ashore as Ship Manager on the Antilles Guyane line which was a hugely rewarding experience as I learned how the various departments and their functions ashore work together. Then from September 2013 to July 2014, I was aboard the following vessels as Deck Officer: CMA CGM FORT ST GEORGES (Engineering Officer), CMA CGM FIDELIO (Safety Officer) and CMA CGM ROSSINI (Safety Officer). Then in September 2014 until June 2015 I went back to complete my Merchant Navy officer training to obtain my higher Merchant Navy diploma (DESMM – Diplôme d’Etude Supérieur de la Marine Marchande), and was back at sea in July 2015 until September 2015 on the CMA CGM FORT STE MARIE (Engineering Officer). Since then I’ve been on assignment to the French Fleet Management department ashore, which is also proving to be a rewarding experience, as you learn how to manage sailors’ careers development, as well as relations between the different French maritime institutions.
I passed my baccalaureate (the science stream) in 2007, then did a year of higher maths (Math Sup – PCSI) which isn’t compulsory to get into the merchant navy school but helped me a lot to pass the entrance exam. Then I spent three years at the ENSM (Ecole Nationale Supérieure Maritime) which is the official name of the merchant navy school in France.
Why did you choose this career?
I chose it because I grew up by the sea in Toulon, I’ve always done watersports and really didn’t like being away from the sea for more than three days, so it was only natural that I would turn to the shipping environment. To begin with I was interested in joining the Navy but then discovered the Merchant Navy which better matched my expectations. For me, travelling and crossing the oceans still makes me inexplicably happy!
What do you like most about your job?
What I like most about my work is the team spirit and waking up to a job that is so different to others. Team spirit because we are between 20 and 26 people on board and if one person makes a mistake everyone suffers the consequences. Having a profession that’s not tied to the daily commute, where you wake up and see the sea every day is a big plus for me personally.
Are there any moments that remain engraved in your memory?
I don’t know really – there are so many. Getting together with all the other crew members at the end of a good day’s work to talk about our passion (the sea), seeing it every day and being able to watch fabulous sunrises every morning… I could go on.
It depends on my post. When I’m on board as Engineering Officer, the day is as follows: get up at 07.00, breakfast, then start work in the engine room at 07.50 starting with a tour of all the engines until 09.00, then routine maintenance procedures for the equipment you are responsible for, then at midday we eat together and it’s back to work at 3.00pm. We make another tour of the engines from 17.00 to 18.00. Then we have dinner at 19.00 before relaxing. We are on call one out of three days.
When I’m working on the bridge as Safety Officer and have the 04.00 to 08.00 watch, I’m up at 03.30 and on the bridge about 03.45 to talk to the guy I’m replacing to find out what’s been happening on the ship. I take the 04.00-08.00 watch on the bridge. I’m relieved by another at 08.00, have breakfast, and then carry out my Safety Officer tasks until 11.00, which means maintenance of safety equipment, then rest and lunch at midday, then rest again until 15.30, before being on watch again from 16.00 to 20.00. Then dinner and bed till the next day.
When we’re in port, we keep the same watches but also take part in the commercial operations, therefore we check that containers are properly loaded and unloaded according to the plan, and make sure to keep the vessel stabilised by filling or emptying the ship’s ballasts. During our watches we are assisted by an able seaman. To this we must also add the periods when we are manoeuvring, this means we have to be present during manoeuvring slots to supervise the manoeuvre from orders given by the captain to ensure the vessel is properly docked.
Where is your next destination?
As I’m ashore at the moment, I don’t know yet….
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to go into the same career?
My advice is that they be motivated, hard-working and humble, that they keep an open mind and stay curious, and always remember that nothing can be taken for granted – you are always learning. Professions at sea are fantastic but require a lot from you on a personal level; you have to cut yourself off from the world six months of the year, not be afraid to go far and for a long period of time, and be able to bounce back from all kinds of situations. If someone can do all that they will discover a wonderful job, exceptional people who share the same passion, a mind-set that you won’t find anywhere else, and they will see many more countries than the average person.