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15 Dec 2021
5 mins
Faces of SMOU: Abid Salwan, The Joys and Perils of a Seafarer

Seen through the lens of Abid Salwan, who has recently obtained his Certificate of Competency (CoC) Class 3 in October 2021.

Life as a seafarer can be likened to a roller coaster ride – it has its ups and downs. Certainly, this could be said of seafarer Abid Salwan who is with PACC Ship Managers Pte Ltd.

Overpacked and Contract Overrun

Relaying his first sea experience in July 2018 with a chuckle, Abid needed the assistance of a 2nd Engineer to help him with his luggage. “I overpacked!” he said.

In the midst of the supportive crew, Abid quickly got used to the working and waking hours. More than that, he learned about perseverance. His contract went beyond the stipulated 9 months and that was a major downer for him. When the mental and physical fatigue weighed in on him, through talking with the officers, he learnt that unexpected delays is a part of sailing life.

Pandemic Struck

By the time Abid sailed his second ship, he was more ‘seasoned’. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. His crew mates had been onboard for more than a year when Abid joined the vessel and they could not sign-off due to travel restrictions. Some reached their fatigue limit point. The company and captain went the extra mile by conducting social activities and offered benefits such as increasing the internet speed in the vessel to lift the morale of the crew.

Those days were tough for the crew especially on the long voyage from USA to China, Abid recalled. Upon reaching the port, they had to wear a mask and a full personal protective equipment (PPE) suit. Security at the port was tight. “The crew felt alienated, like we were COVID-19 carriers,” Abid said. As they could not go to shore, provisions and necessities had to be delivered to them.

Right in the midst of his second voyage, Abid developed an allergic skin reaction exacerbated by the cold weather. The medicines onboard were not enough. The ship was in USA and the pandemic was at its peak in the country. After much appeals and communication between the captain and the port authorities, Abid received the due medical attention on shore.

The Trustworthy Connection

Tackling the crew change concern was not so straightforward. Abid reached out to Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI) and managed to learn about the crew change situation in Singapore. SMOU also paved the way for Abid and other crew to repatriate and settle crew change issues. I am really grateful to be representing Singapore in speaking up for the plight of seafarers. When talking to other crews, I realised how privileged we are to be under the care of the union. They really love to work on Singapore-flagged ships, because SMOU is trustworthy and will be there for them.

Having fulfilled his 18 months of sea-going phase as a cadet, Abid was all set to complete the phase 3 – CoC Class 3 Preparatory Course, which he passed on the first attempt.

Under the MaritimeSG Together Package, Abid could apply for courses, such as Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) and Bridge Resource Management (BRM), with a grant of 90% of course fees. SMOU also introduced the Achievement Incentive 2021, in conjunction with SMOU’s 70th Anniversary, which awarded $700 to those who are able to obtain their first CoC or upgrade to a higher CoC in 2021. Abid is also appreciative that he was given vouchers from NTUC FairPrice and Lighthouse Bistro as part of the union’s ‘Gift for You’ initiative which was offered to SMOU union members in celebration of the union’s anniversary.

Active Participation in SMOU Events

Abid recently participated in a fireside chat, where he shared about the hardships of seafaring, what is going on in the maritime community in Singapore, and how the union can help. He said,

It was very thoughtful of SMOU to conduct the fireside chat, and to find out what’s happening amongst us. Even though we cleared phase 3 of our training and moved on, the union continued to stay in touch with us. Once in a while, they would check in on our welfare and well-being, and also update us on what’s going on in the maritime community and how we can benefit from the schemes and grants available to us seafarers.

Abid also participated in SMOU CSR projects to distribute food to seniors in the community. One of the rare times on shore that Abid could participate in something meaningful and meet up with other union members.

Sometimes, we cannot control the ups and downs of life as a seafarer, but we do have a choice on how we respond to the ride. Thankfully, for Abid, he has had the support of SMOU, WMI, his shipping company, e2i, as well as family and friends.

With gratitude for the support he has received, he concluded, I managed to go through phase 3 of the Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) programme and have finally obtained my CoC. I am really grateful and am looking forward to go onboard ship to sail and go further in my career. I also hope to inspire others who are trying to get into the maritime industry.