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2 May 2024

Meet Supercargo, Torbjörn Nilsson - the Spider in the Web


In the role of supercargo, Torbjörn Nilsson is the spider in the web when ships are loaded. As much cargo as possible should be boarded without compromising safety - or damaging the cargo.

"My profession, supercargo, has old roots and was previously called “supercargoer”. During the time of the East India Trading Company, that person ensured that the ship was loaded, and accompanied the ship to sell the goods. Nowadays, a supercargo only has the responsibility for loading. I am the shipping company's representative on board and must ensure that the loading is as efficient and safe as possible. It is also important to consider the cargo owners' interests. I usually work on ships affiliated with SOL Breakbulk, so the most common loads are lumber, but steel and pulp also occur, and in rare cases machinery or other units. I am involved well before the ship arrives at the port, and then agents and SOL's Operations Team in Gothenburg inform me about what will be loaded."

I have contact with the stevedores and make a loading plan so that they can order the right amount of staff and prepare the cargo. Then I go to the harbor to form an idea about what will be loaded. Partly, it is about planning in the order that the cargo is paid for and approved to load, and partly planning so that the loading becomes as optimal as possible. It is usually adjusted according to how it will be unloaded by the recipient, so it becomes smooth in that port, but sometimes you may need to mix for the stowage to be safe and optimal. My main task is to ensure that the ship is loaded as fully as possible - so that the freight cost for customers does not become higher than necessary - and at the same time as safely as possible. Therefore, I need to have full control over all lumber lots and anything else that will be loaded. Ideally, all cargo should be ready when the ship arrives at the port, but this is rarely the case. Therefore, constant adjustments and fine-tuning are needed. There are a lot of calculations on weights, stability, and draft.

Torbjörn 1

We load both in the cargo hold, on the deck, and on the hatches. If there is steel, we always start with that and then load the lumber on top. The pulp is also loaded separately, and there you have to be extra careful so that it is not damaged. If the cargo hold is 'boxed', i.e., straight on the sides, it loads faster, but with bulk carriers, it's more complicated. Then you first have to stow underneath on the sides with the help of a forklift and sheets until you've filled up all the way there, before you load straight down up to the hatches. When you're then going to load on deck it can become a puzzle, when you have to consider all the structures on deck and passageways that need to be clear. The height of the deck load is limited by clear visibility, the cranes, and stability. I usually live on board during the loading and have close contact with especially the first officer, but also the captain. And then the foremen and signalmen at the stevedoring company. I myself have been at sea for many years, and had all roles up to captain. It's a huge advantage as a supercargo, because I speak the same language as the ones I work with. It creates trust, just like I know how it is to drive a cargo ship. Another important thing in my role is to be flexible but also be able to be firm when required. I love my job and it's the most fun when a lot is happening and when many decisions have to be made.”

Name: Torbjörn Nilsson. 
Age: 56 years. 
Previous work experience: I started as a sailor and ended as a captain, altogether 20 years – and since then I have mainly worked with cargo handling, first at ACL and then at SOL. 
In my free time, I like to: Fix up the summer cottage and engage in athletics. I've been a middle and long-distance runner and I still run some and I am also a coach at Mölndals AIK. 
In my free time, I avoid: Playing golf.

Photos: Patrik Malmer, Rubrik AB

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