“I was 6-7 years old bringing out milk and bread to customers in my mother’s shop,” he says. “One of those customers was a high-ranking official at DFDS, a ferry operator. My mother thought that this guy could give her son a good start in life.”
A wealth of experience
That sentiment proved to be true. Having worked part time for DFDS while being in the military, and then through the two Gulf Wars, the Cold War and decades of operational exercises along the Norwegian coast, Juul Hansen has accrued a vast canon of experience. This is now put to use helping advise NATO member nations about the best methods of maritime transportation all over the world.
“I specialize in Roll-on Roll-off (RoRo) vessels, which give the military a very quick way to go into an operation area, discharge and get away within a very short period of time,” he explains. “We can load approximately 3,000 vehicles in less than 4 hours, and discharge the same within 2 – 2.5 hours.”
In 1975, he began working with the military through transport exercises. For much of the following decade, he supplied transport vessels for the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, particularly through the Gulf wars but also for all main NATO exercises in Europe. Some thirteen years later, Juul Hansen officially began working with the NATO Transport Group. The Group establishes mechanisms for the co-ordination of nationally provided civil transport resources for Alliance use in such areas as mass or medical evacuations.
“My main job within the NATO Transport Group and other bodies within NATO is to make inform nations about the availability and use of RoRo vessels, ferries and cruise vessels during war or warlike situations, and even in natural catastrophes,” he explains. “The most interesting part of my job was – and still is – working with the military because I have been involved from the start in planning how to solve the transport problem.”
Not always plain sailing
Sometimes it doesn’t always go smoothly though. There are times when due to narrow canals he and his team have had to improvise and anchor ships at random coastal roads to unload tanks over a floating pontoon, and once when things have just gone so horribly wrong shipping was delayed.
Juul Hansen makes clear that they have always tried to be on the safe side. However, during the first Gulf War he remembers he chartered a vessel for the UK Ministry of Defence loading at Antwerp, Belgium, heading for Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Instead of following Juul Hansen’s plan, the dockworkers – or “stevedores” as they are known – placed metal shipping containers too high along the sides of the trailer deck and then put vehicles in the middle.
“When passing the Biscay in heavy storms the container stacks collapsed and damaged almost all the vehicles,” he explains. “We had to make an unscheduled stop at Gibraltar to discharge all the damaged cargo and get some new stuff before we could continue.”
Aside from advising nations on the best transport method, Juul Hansen also takes part in training exercises that can involve up to 50 countries, including NATO partners. “Exercises are important to NATO, and most definitely for the civilian companies, because you always learn from experience,” he explains. “It is easier to learn when it is only an exercise than when it is survival. The time/planning factor gives you more time to learn.”
“NATO exercises and real actions show the rest of the world that NATO is efficient, strong and quick to respond,” he says.