Cordova dad makes it easier to get survival suits for toddlers

A partnership born out of need to provide survival suits for toddlers and infants at sea makes possible today the purchase of this gear from the Netherlands right in Cordova.

It began when Cordova dad John Whissel, director of the environment and natural resources department for the Native Village of Eyak, was trying to find an immersion suit for his daughter Lucy, 3.

The Neoprene suits are a requirement for each person on board a commercial fishing vessel, however they can be costly and ill-fitting for children.

Prior to her birth, in search of an affordable suit that would fit, Whissel eventually reached out to Scandia Gear, the only company that makes immersion suits for toddlers and infants.

Whissel began talking with Edward Verweij, vice president of sales for Scandia’s branch in Houston, Texas, hoping to create a partnership that would allow for Cordova residents to purchase survival suits for their youngsters.

Scandia, founded in 1974 in Rotterdam, Netherlands turned out to be a good choice.

“John’s story when he called me was really something that grabbed me,” Verweij said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is interesting.’ I would like to indeed be involved and see what we can do as a company because it fits so well with who we are as a company and what we stand for …”

A family business, Scandia prides itself on providing a quality product with no compromises.

“I never actually thought about places maybe so remote … quiet and tucked away … that would be a topic, so it was also, for me, mind opening,” Verweij said.

Together, Scandia and Whissel have worked to help provide Cordova with affordable toddler and infant survival suits, available for purchase from Whissel.

“I just did this as a dad,” Whissel said. “But once it got going … having the tribe as an entity that was willing to do this was important.” NVE has helped Whissel with his volunteer project by offering a space to store the survival suits awaiting pick-up, as well as offering communication resources.

“There’s no reason your kid shouldn’t be protected,” Whissel said.

For information about the suits, call the Native Village of Eyak at 907-424-7738 or email Whissel at john.whissel@eyak-nsn.gov.

Family-owned, Scandia Gear

Scandia Gear began as a ship supplier for vessels in the port of Rotterdam and eventually expanded north into Norway, then shifting focus to creating and manufacturing safety gear.

Currently, Scandia has offices in Rotterdam, Singapore, Houston and Dubai.

Verweij, also a mechanical engineer, was working at an offshore job outside of Houston when Scandia spotted his wife Jeannine’s credentials on LinkedIn, a social network website for career and business professionals, and offered her a job.

Jeannine started the Houston branch of Scandia and eventually brought on Edward.

There were two driving factors for the creation of the immersion suits for children, explained Verweij.

“Back in the day, when we were operating from Rotterdam … we did a lot of business from Norway …,” he said. Some Norwegian harvesters would take their kids out on their boats in the summer time to go fishing, but there were no suits for their kids.

Scandia was also trading with many internationally renowned ship owners and bigger companies which employed large Filipino crews, he explained.

“If they sail on contract for six or nine months consecutively, they are allowed to bring their family members over on board for a month and sail so that the family is together,” Verweij said of the time before the internet paved the way for long distance communication. “Back in the day, that was a big thing … and you could have your family come over … and be together with them.”

So, Scandia began developing the immersion suits for toddlers and infants.

“What is better than (to) have your family close?” he asked. “So, we totally support that and that’s why we will always continue to have those suits and kids are really important in rural communities,” Verweij said.

Scandia’s adult immersion suits are regulated, tested and certified in accordance with the International Maritime Organization, Safety of Life at Sea. Despite no such requirements for the children’s suits, Scandia regulates and tests each toddler and infant immersion suit under the same scrupulous requirements their adult suits go through, he said.

“We don’t need to become the biggest in the world,” Verweij said. “What we do, we do it right and no compromises there.”

More information on Scandia Gear is online at www.scandiagear.com

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Emily Mesner is a staff reporter and photographer for The Cordova Times. Reach her at emesner@thecordovatimes.com. Emily graduated from Central Michigan University, earning a degree in photojournalism with a cultural competency certificate. She first visited Alaska in 2016, working as a media intern for the National Park Service in Kotzebue and Denali National Park and Preserve, and has been coming back ever since. To see more photos, follow @thecordovatimes and @emilymesnerphoto on Instagram.