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25 Jun 2024
6 mins
Harnessing Mental Fortitude to Navigate

The Day of the Seafarer is observed annually on June 25th. In 2024, the theme focuses on safety at sea, highlighting the vital role seafarers play in making the maritime sector a safer workplace.

SeaVoices poses 10 questions, ranging from safety to seafarers’ rights. to Tan Fu Wei (2nd Officer DPO), SMOU member for 7 years and member of the General Council. His candid answers point out that more can be done to protect the welfare of seafarers. While a career at sea has its tremendous challenges, it is also intrinsically rewarding.

Read on.

SV: Fu Wei, who did you hear about a career at sea and what made you choose this path?

FW: I was introduced to seafaring by my uncle, who works in the maritime industry. When I learned about the Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) program offered by Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI), I eagerly signed up. This marked the beginning of my journey as a seafarer. I aspire to earn my captain’s license and build a long-term career in the industry.

SV: What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job as a seafarer?

FW: There is a unique sense of accomplishment in safely navigating a vessel through various situations and earning commendation from the charterer.

Seafaring, while partially desk-bound, allows me to acquire vital skills and knowledge through hands-on work, as well as gain valuable insights into the management procedures of the maritime sector.

SV: Could you describe a typical day onboard a vessel?

FW: In the offshore sector, I work 12-hour shifts on Dynamic Positioning (DP) vessels. My day begins early on the bridge, where I take over the watch and review the day’s schedule, including connection timings with the platform and plans for lifting operations.

Following the schedule, I manoeuvre the vessel on DP, making approaches to and from the offshore platform for personnel transfer and lifting operations.


Throughout the day, I monitor the updated weather forecast, making decisions to end operations promptly if bad weather is expected. Additionally, I conduct regular checks on safety, firefighting, and navigational equipment onboard.

After my shift, I have dinner and spend some time studying. If time permits, I unwind by watching videos before heading to bed for some rest.

SV: What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced while working at sea?

FW: One of the biggest challenges seafarers face is being away from friends and family, compounded by weak internet connections onboard. People often forget that we are humans too, and being isolated from loved ones, coupled with less-than-ideal conditions onboard, puts great strain on our mental health. Poor internet connectivity leaves us with limited contact with our families ashore, creating a literal disconnect between seafarers and the outside world.

SV: How do you cope and overcome that challenge?

FW: I’ve always been quite independent, which helps me get through my time onboard. I focus on getting through each day and look forward to the end of my contract when I can return home to see my family and friends. Having their support greatly helps me persevere, giving me comfort and the assurance that I can always count on them to cheer me on.

I remind myself why I started this journey in the first place. Dwelling on the negatives won’t improve the situation, so I focus on small daily accomplishments and look for ways to enhance my experience onboard.

SV: Safety is a concern at sea. How do you and your crew ensure safety protocols are followed?

FW: The enemy of safety is complacency and laziness. By continually emphasizing the priority of safety over merely completing tasks quickly, we promote a culture where the first consideration for every task is how to accomplish it safely, rather than rushing to finish it. It’s important to recognize that crew members may develop a false sense of security simply because Risk Assessments (RA), Toolbox Talks (TBT), and Permit to Work (PTW) were carried out.

This is why we consistently remind the crew of their stop work authority, which my company emphasizes all the time. Anyone, regardless of rank, has the right to halt any job if they harbor doubts about its safety. No operational time constraint should ever outweigh the safety of our crew and vessel. Ironically, I find that the mountain of paperwork and checklists has made safety seem secondary. The focus has shifted to ensuring and recording evidence of protocol compliance. To overcome this, I always try to streamline the process and emphasize creating a genuinely safe working environment.

SV: Can you share a memorable experience from your time at sea?

FW: During my cadetship, I was onboard with two other Singaporeans, a 3rd Officer and a 3rd Engineer. We often spent time together after work, watching movies, chatting, and just hanging out. Having them as companions made that contract much more bearable, despite the poor conditions onboard.

SV: What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a seafarer?

FW: Seafaring is by no means an easy profession. My advice is to talk to both those who have completed the journey and those who have stopped halfway. Understand the pros and cons of the job before committing.

This career is a marathon, not a sprint. You may face many setbacks before reaching your goals. Thriving as a seafarer requires considerable determination and the ability to adapt to challenging situations. So, take the time to understand yourself and the life of a seafarer before deciding to embark on this journey.

SV: In your opinion, what measures could be implemented to better protect the rights of seafarers?

FW: Amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) would be a great start. The clauses in the MLC are outdated, as modern welfare needs differ significantly from those of the past. Terms like internet speed and a positive social working environment should be included.

Moreover, there is a severe lack of accountability regarding the abuse of power and ill-treatment of seafarers onboard. Although there has been an increased focus on mental health since COVID-19, measures such as helplines and guidelines do not address the root problems. Institutional change is necessary to protect seafarers’ rights to a safe and conducive working environment. 

SV: Lastly, as this article will be published on the Day of the Seafarer, do you have any wishes for all seafaring readers?

FW: Wishing all seafarers smooth seas ahead and the unwavering mental fortitude to navigate through the toughest times and emerge victorious.