The Unsung Heroes of the Maritime Industry – Family
Some say that seafarers form the backbone of the maritime industry. Away from home anywhere from three to six months at a time, seafarers work onboard ships to make sure that operations out at sea are smooth-sailing. However, beyond the seafarers’ love for their work, we often forget that it is the relentless support of their families that keeps them grounded in their passion to continue sailing for a large part of their careers. We hear from a seafarer, whose job require him to work away from home, and the unsung hero behind his successes – his wife.
From Tourism to Touring the World
Meet Ivan Wu, a 33-year-old seafarer whose story did not begin in the maritime industry. Having previously worked in the tourism industry, Ivan realised his GCE ‘N’ Levels certification did not allow for much career progression and began thinking about a different career path. The turning point came about after Ivan attended an industry briefing organised by the Wavelink Maritime Institute, which sparked his interest in maritime and thus started him on his journey as a seafarer. While Ivan’s path gives him the career advancement he seeks, it also requires him to travel for months at a time, during which the seafarer particularly treasures family photos and the memories of his favourite family holidays.
We interviewed Ivan to find out more about the life of a seafarer and his family.
Could you provide a summary of your daily work?
I’ve sailed on board four ships as a deck cadet at PACC Offshore Services (POSH). On board, my duties mainly comprise doing deck work with the Bosun, including maintenance of machinery, painting and chipping, mooring, anchoring and general housekeeping around the vessel. On the navigation bridge, the deck officers train me on the upkeep of the charts and publications as well as the various navigation methods used at sea with the available navigational equipment. I learn about how to check on the maintenance of life-saving appliances and the stability of the vessel by taking sounding (term used for measuring the level of fluids in various tanks on the ship) of the tanks and calculations. I am also taught how to identify risks and hazards on the ship and the methods to mitigate them.
Your job requires you to have unconventional working hours and to be out at sea often. What are your working hours like and how often are you required to be away from home?
The working hours on each of the four ships are very different. I work either two six- or one twelve-hour shift on weekdays and half a day during the weekends. The duration for which I am at sea depends on my contract, which ranges from four to six months, followed by a shore break of two to four months before I am dispatched for the next voyage.
How do you keep in touch with your family while you are away for long periods of time? What are some struggles you face in doing so?
Ships these days are equipped with the latest technology, so WiFi connection is available on the ship. While the connection may not be the strongest at times, it still enables me to send text messages and talk to my family using WhatsApp or Facebook video calls. I typically text daily and call my family at least twice a month. When WiFi is not available, I can also use a satellite prepaid card to stay connected with my family. I am fortunate that most of the destinations my job takes me have only small variations in time differences with Singapore, so I do not face any issues in finding time to call home – except for once when I had to sail to Alaska. Alaska is 12 hours behind Singapore – when I was available, my family was fast asleep back home.
What would be your advice to people considering seafaring careers?
For those who have no prior experience in the maritime industry, it is important that your family understands what your line of work entails and supports your decision to choose seafaring as a career. It may be tough in the beginning because there is so much to learn and absorb, and this can be challenging since it forces most of us outside of our comfort zones. My advice is to keep holding on when it does get tough, especially if you are going through a mid-career switch. There are many like us who have gone through changes in life and emerged successful. In fact, two of our Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) alumnus from Cohort 3 are already Chief Officers. They have shown us that with determination, everything is achievable when you put your mind to it.
Ivan’s Pillar of Strength
The decision to sail and be away from home for more than four months at once is one that also has an impact on family. Ivan’s wife, Kathy Lim, aged 35, has been a great source of support for Ivan as she has seen him through his journey as a seafarer from the start. Kathy is supportive of his career choice and sees it as a chance for him to travel across different countries and constantly learn something new, an opportunity she thought he might not get had he chosen a normal day-to-day desk-bound job. The couple’s constant communication through Facebook Messenger, which is their main mode of communication while he is overseas, has also allowed her to understand his duties well.
From Kathy’s point of view, there are moments when the relationship feels strained as Ivan cannot always be physically present to share her burdens or successes from work. He may also miss out on some family events, such as birthdays or Chinese New Year celebrations. However, the understanding and care shared between Ivan and Kathy trumps the physical distance that daunts many. Kathy understands the requirements of Ivan’s job and sends him photos of the gatherings he misses. She also ensures that she takes good care of herself so that Ivan does not have to worry and can fully concentrate on his job while he is away. Being apart has also taught them to be more appreciative of the time they can spend together when Ivan is back on shore leave. In Kathy’s words to her husband, “Jia you [Go for it]! Let’s work together to build a better future for us!”
Thinking of a career switch? Seafaring careers are just one of the diverse options that Singapore’s vibrant maritime industry offers. Learn more about maritime careers on board ships and in the office at www.maritimesgconnect.com.