Forget complaining about having to take one or two COVID-19 tests to be able to go abroad; these five engineers from England undertook 130 coronavirus tests between them – all for one cruise ship job at Meyer Werft in Germany.
Luke Boal (pictured left), Lee Redfern (second left), Graham Stott (middle), Elliott Flynn (second right) and James Schofield are engineers from Rochdale, England, with Schofield acting as head of the team. They work for Salt Separation Services. Boal, Redfern, Stott, Flynn and Schofield left Rochdale for Germany on Feb. 19 to carry out checks on three reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plants that they’d manufactured for a new cruise ship.
The machines had been installed by German shipbuilder Meyer Werft and are 13 meters long, weigh 20 tonnes and can each turn seawater into 800,000 liters of drinking water every day.
According to Rochdale Development Agency, the RO tests would normally take up to 10 days to complete. But, because of the coronavirus restrictions, the team was away for 38 days and underwent a combined total of 130 coronavirus tests, all of which were negative.
“We were founded in 1990 and have never walked away from a job yet and don’t intend doing so. However, because of the logistics, isolation and quarantine involved, this was our most challenging job yet. The guys did a brilliant job and were ably supported by our back-office staff,” said Daniel Shackleton, technical and commercial director at Salt Separation Services.
According to Shackleton, outside of the pandemic time, engineers would go to Hull in a van, from which they would catch a ferry to Rotterdam and drive to Meyer Werft’s shipyard in Papenburg.
“They weren’t allowed to fly direct to Germany because the country’s in a COVID lockdown, so instead they flew to Luxembourg and were driven to Papenburg – where they each had to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine,” Shackleton explained.
Schofield said that during the 14-day quarantine, he had a lot of time to think. But sometimes, he had to find ways to entertain himself.
“My room was about six meters by eight meters in size, and I set myself a target of jogging a half marathon one day and walking the length of a marathon another during quarantine,” Schofield said.
“At the end of the quarantine period, we underwent the mandatory COVID tests and were driven to the port at Bremerhaven where the (ship) was leaving for sea trials. Needless to say, we wore PPE throughout,” he added.
The team then had to undergo another COVID-19 test to board the ship, where they ran a series of tests on the RO plants and installed a total of 270 membranes, which is an essential element in the RO process.
“In total, we spent 10 days onboard during the sea trials and slept on the cruise ship throughout. If we weren’t working, we were in our individual cabins where our food was delivered,” Schofield explained.
The saga didn’t end there, with the five engineers being refused to board their flight to Manchester due to allegedly having taken the “wrong COVID test.”
The men eventually retook the tests and boarded the March 28 plane to London.
“Thankfully, we were able to board our plane to London, where we hired a couple of cars and drove back to Rochdale. I walked through my front door at just after midnight in the early hours on March 29,” said Schofield.
“In total, I clocked up 38 days, underwent 26 COVID tests, stayed in four hotels and on one cruise ship. I even had my 34th birthday while I was away. It wasn’t your typical trip, but our customer needed us,” he concluded.
Boal, Redfern, Stott, Flynn and Schofield are now self-isolating back in Rochdale for at least another five days, subject to test results.