[notice]The Logos Hope mission ship, with its international crew of 400 volunteers, left Cape Town for West Africa on Tuesday July 12, after spending four months visiting South African ports. David Melvill interviewed the captain, Tom Dyer while the world’s largest floating bookshop was in Cape Town.[/notice]
It is a feat to be the captain on one of OM Ships International’s famous ships: it is truly an amazing accomplishment to have been captain on all four ships. Capt Tom Dyer is a gentle, unassuming and gracious man, as I discovered during my interview with him on board the ship in the ship’s dining room.
“May I get you a cup of tea?” he asks amiably. In a servant like fashion he heads for the counter to make the tea for us. “Wow”! My wife exclaims: “He is the captain and yet he is making us tea.” This is indeed a good example of a servant leader.
His passion has been to give his life and expertise to the Lord firstly, and then to the work for the Lord. He is held in high esteem by all those who know him.
With unflinching zeal he has served the ship ministry for some 34 years – it’s a life’s calling!
The OM Ships family — Logos, Logos II, Doulos, Logos HopeVisits to South Africa
- The Logos visited South Africa for the first time in 1971.
- Logos II never came to South Africa.
- Doulos last visited South Africa in 2002.
- Logos Hope launched in February 2009, it visited South Africa for the 1st time in 2016.
How did you become involved with OM (Operation Mobilisation)?
Tom: I was particularly blessed to have a father who was a Christian artist. He served at a Christian Conference Centre. As young folk we had the opportunity to see how he operated, this was a tremendous advantage. At the tender age of six, I gave my life to Jesus. A little later at the age of 11, I felt the desire to commit my life to serve the Lord in missions. Missions were always a part of us. My parents would host many missionaries in our home, and we would hear their stories. This served as a huge encouragement.
From a young age I took an interest in ships. Therefore after school, I embarked on a study course through The US Merchant Academy at King’s Point in Long Island. There I studied navigation in order to become a merchant ship officer and also prepared to be a naval officer. After my four years of studies I obtained a BSc Nautical Science degree, my 3rd Mate’s license and I was then eligible to work for the US government and pay back my studies.
The US Navy commissioned me as a young ensign officer. This was my first step. I was promoted to lieutenant junior grade before I left. I served in the navy for three years in this capacity. Then I was on a five year basis as a reservist. During this time I had heard of both OM and the Logos [OM Ships’ first ship] and considered both as possible career paths.
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. — Phil 1:6. This [verse] was a constant reminder to me. I was at a crossroad and needed to make a choice. I either could pursue the career of earning good money and being able to support missionaries, or venture out myself as a young missionary.
The navy needs men of integrity. Nonetheless I was confronted with the scripture that reminded me, You can’t serve two masters. I wrestled with the concept of a good pay cheque, as I felt I had “arrived” in worldly status, as I was able to purchase the material things that I wanted. I wanted to be known as a committed Christian, both options were very attractive.
I decided to join for six months on the Logos ship. I thought of going back to law school to pursue further studies in admiralty law. This would be very helpful for pursuing a further career in the shipping industry. The director of the Logos, at the time, was Dr Allan Adams, an Australian. He was very caring and concerned for everyone — in fact he interviewed everyone before they came on board the ship. Today he still has a counselling practice in Australia. He helped me particularly in overcoming emotional issues at the time. This enabled me to pursue a far longer period on the ship.
Is running a Christian ship a good business?
Tom: We operate largely on donations. Therefore it is difficult to compare it to a business. The Christian ministry is effective. If we compare the cost of fuel and accommodation ($2 million a month – or R 28 million) then it is very practical, as it would cost a lot to find accommodation for 400 crew missionaries as well as the rental of a conference hall for all the programmes that we offer. The ship does act as a “draw card”. Many people would not come to a church but visitors are inclined to visit the ship as it is a novelty.
Our young people on board have a tremendous opportunity. Where would they be able to experience Cape Town and climb Table Mountain were it not for its ministry? Furthermore, the ship acts as a model for us to be able to serve one another, ask forgiveness, and live in a close community. I would like to believe this is a wonderful opportunity for us to demonstrate the love of God as we live out the Christian life as a closely knitted community.
The ship is primarily about mobilisation and training. This happens to bring about a huge awareness of missions, as we step out in faith. It also acts as a tremendous opportunity for discipleship training. In addition to this there is training on the job. Many learn skills through working in the engine room, retailing, hospitality trade, project management, public relations and ultimately many valuable life skills.
In effect, we are offering our crew an internship as well as the opportunity to walk with Jesus. For instance the chief engineer who will be leaving the ship shortly, started as a mechanic, followed the path of certification and qualification, and thus has achieved this high ranking position.
What is “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement?”
Tom: “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” is a wonderful study course (15 weeks) as it brings into consideration: Biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic aspects of missions. God has a “world-sized” role for every Christian in His global purpose.
It is perhaps the greatest course available on missions. I got involved in learning from it as well as presenting it. There is also an abbreviated, shorter course, known as the Kairos course [The Kairos course was offered on the ship while it was in SA ports].
If I had been better in languages, I would have loved to have translated the Bible into languages that the Bible has not yet been translated into. Romans 10:14 reminds us, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? It is imperative that we build bridges with people if we wish to reach them for the Lord. I marvel at the Bible translators, as they reach so many for the Lord, in particular, I think of the Wycliffe and the New Tribes Missions translators of the Bible – they are my heroes.
While I was in the navy, I got connected with Navigators. It is a wonderful organisation that focuses on a one-on-one discipleship relationship. It also is an effective memorisation of scripture system and in addition to this it offers many good biblical studies.
What is your finest achievement?
Tom: One of my times of greatest satisfaction or sense of achievement would be the rescue of the Vietnamese refugees in 1980. They were on their way in a small boat from South East Asia (Vietnam) to the Philippines. I spotted them late afternoon when I was on my watch at the bridge of the Logos. I spied a small object floating on the horizon. The captain diverted the ship towards them — the small boat that was adrift had 52 refugees. They had been at sea for 11 days.
We allowed them to board our boat. These folk had run out of supplies and their water was very limited. Would you believe it? The next day, while I was on watch I spotted another 41 refugees at sea. Logos, fortunately was under its numbers of the maximum of 143. By the time we had loaded these 93 extra passengers, we were close to 200 people on board including our crew and staff. Many of the boat people were exhausted and weak.
They would sleep in the dining room at night and during the day were on the poop deck. We then docked in Thailand. The United Nations took responsibility to place these refugees in different countries. Our captain at the time was concerned that they would not get off the ship. The UN kindly provided extra food for them. Six weeks later, we were able to send them on their way to settle in different countries.
Any other stand-out achievements?
Tom: My closely aligned achievement [to the above] would be my appointment as captain of the Logos II and steering it to the new harbour for renovations. The Logos was written off on the rocks of Chile. Fortunately, no life was lost in this incident. Very kindly, the government agreed for us to leave the wreck as a “monument” to warn further ships of the danger. Otherwise it would have cost a fortune to dislodge and tow the ship away.
The Logos II was purchased in 1988. It was in Greece at the time we purchased it. It was planned for the ship to be renovated to change it from a car-passenger ferry to serve us as a book ship. This meant that the ship needed to sail from Greece to Holland.
Unfortunately on the way from Greece to Holland the engines seized up and the ship had to be towed to Gibraltar. Several of the crew who had volunteered to bring the ship around had to leave in Gibraltar. This gave me the chance to come from Doulos where I had been serving as captain to Gibraltar and complete the voyage. This meant we needed to pass the Bay of Biscay (this is known for its notorious and treacherous weather).
After we left Gibraltar we had a fuel leak on one of the engines and had to divert to a port in Spain for parts to be received. Once the parts were received and installed we continued on the journey.
When we got to the Bay of Biscay, it was like a pond. As we came into the English Channel the weather started to deteriorate. It was then imperative for us to move through the English Channel. We arrived off Amsterdam on Christmas Eve day. The pilot, Ed Verbeek (a good friend and past chief mate of Logos), came to meet us and to escort us into Amsterdam. Amazingly, we were the last ship into the port before it was closed because of the weather.
My family was in Germany — Maggie, my wife, was pregnant with our third child. She was on the side of the locks to welcome Logos II to Amsterdam. Our daughter was born in Holland during the conversion in Amsterdam. Many volunteers came to help us. This was an amazing time for me.
What is your greatest personal challenge?
Tom: I don’t find building long term relationships easy. I have friends all over the world. The distance and the short stay in a port, can make relationships transient. For instance, we built a really good relationship with a Muslim family in Sri Lanka — they lost their business when a tsunami hit their country. I long to go back to their country to meet up with them again. How does one measure the impact that one has on the lives of others? It will only be revealed in eternity.
What are some of the challenges in your work environment?
Tom: As the captain of the ship I have a high profile image, yet 80% of my work is behind the scenes in administration and ensuring that we meet the regulatory requirements. For instance, this port [Cape Town] we have had two inspections. Firstly, the Port State Control of the South African Maritime Safety Association. Their primary purpose is to improve the safety of the ship. As the ship docks into harbour the computer system triggers a “pop-up” and will typically say, “The ship was last inspected a year ago.” With their inspection they found minor deficiencies that needed attention.
Our ship is registered in the country of Malta. Their classification society requires that an annual report is sent to Lloyds of London. This monitors the building and improvements of the ship.
At the last dry-docking we changed classification societies to RINA. Our insurance is arranged through British Marine. Because of the change of classification society they requested a risk loss assessment inspection assessing the hazards and risks and the probability of something untoward happening to the ship. The Logos Hope ship was 31 years old when we purchased it in 2004 (that makes it 43 years old now, built in 1973). In modern day standards, this is old, the pipes were falling apart and consequently a lot of maintenance is required. The new legislation has tightened up tremendously, for instance our trash cans are made of wire mesh but have to be changed to enclosed metal (one of the findings from the inspection).
Thus we are tasked with replacing some 300 containers. Fortunately we are given some three months grace in order to comply.
As we set sail now, one of our four engines is not working well. This is a material change to our risk. Consequently, we are required to advise our insurers of the change in material risk. We hope to have the engine repaired here in Cape Town or Walvis Bay. When we leave Cameroon we will be forced to travel far out at sea, some 200 miles off the coast. The reason being that the Nigerian coast is no longer safe.
In times past ships were held captive and their fuel supply was drained. Today it is a lot more serious. Ships are held ransom and a fee is requested. We have to satisfy our insurers (as well as parents) that we are taking proper precautions. We follow the Best Management Practices for transiting high risk areas that that have been developed by many of the ship insurers and security agencies. As a result we have arranged professional crisis management agents as well as hostage negotiators in the dreaded event of us being captured. We take precautions to harden the ship when necessary and prohibit access.
- Next week we will publish Part 2 of the interview with Captain Tom Dyer