RTW the voyage home, part 1

As I wrote in the blog post about planning my way home, I was going to board another container ship, the time from China to Europe via the Suez canal. Now doesn’t that sound like a proper adventure! The ship is sailing with CMA CGM and is called CC Kerguelen. It’s the biggest of the four freighters I will have been on, at 398 meters! It’s a monster, and actually in the top 15 biggest container ships in the world. The Kerguelen is a whopping 170 meters longer than the smallest ship I’ve been on, Cap Capricorn, and carries four times the cargo (almost two million kilos, or 180.000 tons!).  It seems to have five cabins for passengers: two singles, two doubles and a twin, so would carry a maximum 7-8 passengers.

In a surprisingly few days, about 22 in fact, the ship will leave Yantian China, the last Chinese port, go around the South East Asian peninsula, stop for a few hours in Singapore, then go all around India, find the Red Sea and pass through the Suez Canal, to finish the journey with a passage through the Mediterranean Sea and finish in Algeciras, in the far south of the Spanish coast. That’s a distance of about 9200 nautical miles, or 17.000 kilometers!

A journey like this required planning. This post breaks down the main tasks I had to complete before I could board the ship in Yantian. Part 2 will follow soon enough.

Finding the ship

I was looking for the shortest = cheapest way from Shanghai to Europe and ended up checking option on CMA CGM and Hamburg Sud websites directly. I was focusing on Shanghai, because that is where the ferry from Osaka would end up in. However, I soon switched to Yantian, as that minimized the days onboard between embarkation and Singapore, which was my plan B in case I was refused a Chinese visa. I would not be getting a refund for those days, but I could catch the ship in Singapore, where I could fly on short notice as I didn’t require a visa beforehand.

So, in the end, I booked passage on the Kerguelen from Yantian China to Algeciras Spain with departure on about the 23rd of May. I could finally visit Barcelona! And the cost was not too bad, either, at about 2300 euro in total. This included three meals a day and my own private cabin, as well as a 22 day sea journey. A bargain in my opinion!

But it wasn’t quite so easy…

On the Shanghai-Osaka ferry

Booking the ferry from Osaka to Shanghai

Once we had settled on the ship I had to book the ferry to Shanghai. Inconveniently, there was a gap of three weeks between departures due to dry dock around that time. The last departure prior to the break was an inconveniently early 21st April which I couldn’t make due to all the required preparations, so I had to plan around the first departure in May, which was 12th May.

Once we had settled on the freighter I was to board, I completed the online booking form on Shanghai Ferries website and got a response back soon enough that there was still a spot for me on the ladies’ tatami dorm room. Excellent! I had loved my first crossing, so I was happy about getting a second one.

Extending the travel insurance

With my travel insurance due to expire on the day before planned arrival date in Spain, I needed to also extend the policy. It was also quite possible that the ship would be delayed, or even changed to another line, further pushing my arrival in Europe. And what if something calamitous happened? Somali pirates, storm, or a burst appendix? I had to have a valid travel insurance until I was safe and sound back in the UK.

It took some calling, live chatting, and odd medical questions (“When your wrist was fractured, did you have a joint replacement” — a what now?), but I finally had it done and the policy extended until mid July.

Filling in the primary paperwork

As I have written before, traveling on a container ship requires a lot of paperwork. Responsibility waiver, travel insurance information, identity form… the list goes on. But I was an old hat in this, so I filled the forms quickly, scanned them on a memory stick and sent them to the agency, with a receipt from my bank showing I had paid the transport in full.

The only thing missing from the first batch was the medical certificate. So…

Getting a medical certificate

Kyoto train station

This was always a little harrowing. Happily, there was a hospital recommended for tourists near Kyoto main train station. And it all went like a charm. I was at the hospital around 10 am, and was immediately greeted by a lady employee who was really sweet and spoke quite good English. She guided me through the process, apologizing for the many questions she had to ask me (after three questions, which I thought not many at all).

Eventually I was seen to by a doctor who was kind and fast, and I was in and out of his office in 5 minutes. A few minutes later I had paid my visit fee (about 7000 yen, or 50 GBP) and picked up the filled-in certificate. In total, I had spent less than two hours at the hospital, even though I didn’t have an appointment beforehand. A very pleasant visit!

Hitting a snag with the Chinese visa

The process for getting a Chinese visa as well as most of the documents was the same as for my first one. The main difference was that i didn’t have to go to the Embassy, but would have to use a Visa Application Center, and the one in Osaka was the most convenient. Also, as per CMA CGM I would have to apply for an M type visa to embark in Yantian, not a tourist visa, which required an additional invitation letter from CMA CGM.

I wasn’t going to Osaka until a few days before my departure on the ferry to Shanghai. But I was going to be in Kyoto for a week, which had direct trains to Osaka. Unfortunately, Easter holidays delayed my preparations big time and in the end, I booked four more nights in Kyoto to manage it.

To cut a long story shorter, I received the freighter confirmation and an invitation letter from CMA CGM eventually, and went to the visa center. The lovely lady behind the counter spoke quite good English, fortunately, and I had brought with me all kinds of explanatory documents with me. However, the lady wasn’t having it, but insisted I should get a tourist visa. I had to concede. Besides, the consul might give me the required M type visa in the end.

We completed the process, and there didn’t seem any doubt that I would get the visa. But I was worried I would get just a tourist visa and would eventually be refused embarkation to my ship in Yantian. And that’s exactly what happened. When I got the passport back it had just the standard tourist visa, and CMA CGM confirmed after checking with the immigration that a tourist visa really does not allow embarkation to a container ship in Yantian. What to do?

After several panicked e-mails with CMA CGM, we found a viable option: embarking the same freighter in Ningbo a few days earlier, as they allow embarkation with a tourist visa. So with this option, I had everything I needed: a ship and a valid visa for China. It also meant a few more days on the ship and shorter train travel in China, so I was happy!

Stay tuned for part 2!

p.s. this post was scheduled to keep you entertained while I was taking the ferry from Osaka to Shanghai.


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