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Rope work in the exhaust pipes of cruise ships

Imagine a worksite 30 metres in length, and 120 to 140 cm in diameter. The temperature is +40 degrees, and the amount of light is zero. In addition, the workspace is vertical, so the work is carried out hanging on ropes. This is what the worksite of Marko Lipponen, a long-term Stairon employee, has been like for years. He maintains ship exhaust pipes on cruise ships around the world.

– ‘Our job is to go through the ship’s most difficult spot. We work while hanging on ropes,’ Marko Lipponen relates.

Safety first, says Marko Lipponen.

‘The exhaust pipe, or the funnel, can only be accessed from the top of the funnel or through a small manhole opened at the foot of the funnel.

– ‘Experience has shown that, when working in the funnel, it is easier to proceed from the bottom up than coming down the chimney.’

Machinery and men are lowered into the exhaust pipe using ropes. Work is carried out both by hanging on a harness and on top of a work platform lowered down the funnel.

– ‘Once the working method is clarified and learnt, working inside the funnel goes well. I haven’t suffered from claustrophobia or fear of the dark. Working on a harness easily tires the backs of your thighs, but fortunately many tasks can be performed on a platform, where you can stand.’

Occupational safety is imperative

Men working inside the exhaust pipes of cruise ships are trained to rope work. They have been taught by, among others, the mountain climbing specialist Ari Piela, who is the first person to have climbed Mt. Everest from the Tibetan side.

– ‘We were given very good training in rope work in Pansio. We carefully studied different sorts of lifting styles, knot fastenings and lowering devices. There are always several men on the site to ensure that everything’s in order and that the work is done safely,’ Marko Lipponen adds.

Since occupational safety is carefully managed and the work is well-planned, no occupational accidents have occurred under the difficult conditions.

– ‘Of course, with the manholes open, the draught in a long stack is strong. Because of this, fairly large amounts of debris come loose from the funnel walls, which then keep on falling into your eyes and ears. Good safety equipment have saved us from them as well.’

In Marko Lipponen’s view, the high temperature in the workspace is something that should be taken seriously.

– ‘The exhaust pipe is as hot as a furnace. Plenty of water must be taken along, and the work shifts must be divided into working periods of a few hours each, so that you don’t get totally exhausted in the smokestack.’

Seven times across the Atlantic

Marko Lipponen has been working in Pansio for 30 years. He began the rope work on cruise ship exhaust pipes in 2014. Since then, he has become familiar with the world’s seas.

He made his first trips to Australia. Since then, he has been working a lot on American cruise ships in the Caribbean.

– ‘One year I crossed the Atlantic seven times. As part of my work, I’ve also sailed round South America and visited Alaska,’ he says.

He has been happy with travel work.

– ‘I’ve never had the feeling that I should change jobs,’ he laughs.

When travelling around the world, he has noticed that working in different cultures requires a lot of patience and adaptability in particular.

– ‘Even though we plan the work carefully before leaving Pansio, we always encounter some surprises at the site. And even if we we’re operating on the vessels of the same shipping company, they may have major differences in the working cultures and systems. On board a ship, it is always the captain who makes the decisions.’

The work has also made Marko accustomed to fast departures. Normally, the trips are well-planned and scheduled, but Marko remembers that there have been times when he has had to take off at two hours’ notice.

During the coronavirus pandemic, all travel work has been suspended. But Marko has his mind set on the seas of the world – even in his free time.

– ‘I had planned that I would celebrate my 50th birthday by taking a Caribbean cruise. But we can’t get there right now. Now I have to celebrate my birthday on the riverboat Jokke or the ferry Föri,’ he chuckles.