After 11 years of lecturing at the Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI), it is time to bid farewell to our beloved lecturer, colleague and friend, Captain S.K. Menon. An ex-seafarer with a passion for the sea, Captain Menon started his seafaring journey in 1964 on a training ship in India. From a young cadet, he sailed the high seas and rose the ranks, eventually attaining the rank of a Captain – the most respectable title of any seafaring deck officer, and an esteemed achievement in the maritime industry.
He sailed with the company ‘Neptune Orient Lines’ which had a collective agreement with SMOU, making Captain Menon an SMOU member since his seafaring days. Being a seafaring member for more than 25 years, he saw the union progress through the years, evolving to what it is today.
RETIRING FROM THE SEA
It was not until the late 2000s when the global financial recession hit. Captain Menon recalled feeling that “it was time I hung up my sea boots”, and made the decision to retire from his seafaring career of 45 years in 2009. Finally, with the freedom of a retiree, Captain Menon wanted to spend his time with family – something that he had to sacrifice over the years while he was earning his keep out at sea.
Two weeks into his retirement, the maritime industry came back knocking on Captain Menon’s door in the form of a phone call, offering him a temporary position at WMI for half a year. “There was a class (of 8 cadets) going on, but no lecturer”, Captain Menon recollected. An ex-lecturer had decided to leave, opening up a position at the institute.
As written in history, Captain Menon stayed on beyond the initial 6-month stint to teach more than 300 deck cadets across 18 cohorts under the Tripartite Nautical Training Awards (TNTA) programme.
BACK TO THE MARITIME INDUSTRY
The transition to a shore-based job required some adjustment for Captain Menon. As a master of a ship, he was used to being the highest authority, but at WMI he had to adjust to the hierarchy of the office. Fortunately, the shift was not a painful one for him as his superiors were also mariners he knew as colleagues and peers from his time at sea. Having worked on ships with crew members for extended periods of time, Captain Menon was also equipped with the people skills needed to thrive in the office environment.
Another reason for taking on the position was the valuable experience he wanted to pass on to the next generation of Singaporean seafarers. “We are here to pay back (to) the industry what the industry has given us. It has been a fulfilling life for us at sea, so it is only right that we need to give back to society what we have earned,” said Captain Menon when speaking about why he stayed on as a lecturer at WMI.
The TNTA programme was initialised by tripartite partners to boost the Singapore seafaring core by training more Singaporeans to become seafaring officers. Captain Menon was an obvious choice for the job with his impressive years of seafaring experience.
CAPTAIN OF A TIGHT SHIP
Fresh from taking charge of ships, he stood by his standards and instilled a culture of strict adherence to rules. “That’s the way I ran ships, that’s the way I run a class,” Captain Menon told SeaVoices. The TNTA cadets had to learn and acquaint themselves with the rigour, but the rules were laid out for their benefit and to foster discipline in them so that they will be prepared for the real ships.
Out in the open seas, discipline and conduct could mean life and death situations, and regulations help to govern and safekeep ship operations and the crew onboard. Nonetheless, it was never a power play by Captain Menon, but hard work “because it is easy to get ill-disciplined cadets. To keep them disciplined is not easy – it’s a tough job.”
The more Captain Menon spent his time with the cohorts of cadets, the more he grew an affinity for them and the job. The progression of cadets through the training phases, and subsequently officer milestones provided the invaluable feeling of personal satisfaction for him. Fulfillment comes when Captain Menon is able to, from his wealth of experience, tap onto the potential of these cadets and turn them into seafarers in their own rights to achieve their mark in the maritime industry. He likened his job to taking a piece of coal and refining it into a diamond.
A PERSONAL MENTOR
The cadets that join the TNTA programme come from all walks of life. They have different family, social-economic and education background, but all wanting to enter the seafaring trade for the opportunities that it can offer.
Even though Captain Menon ran a tight ship, he forged deep bonds with several cadets across his years as a lecturer. Even until today many still see him as a mentor as they contact him for guidance on real life seafaring situations, gleaning from his abundant knowledge and expertise. He recalled a story of an officer who had to move a ship in Australia along the wharf, and had never done it before. The officer contacted Captain Menon through text messages and with his help over the phone, was able to move the ship successfully.
Captain Menon over the years saw the cadets that enrolled into TNTA like his children. There were occasions when cadets would ask for supplementary classes, and Captain Menon would stay back beyond his working hours into the night to give extra lessons. “We are always there for you. Day, night, 24-7, 365. You call us, we are here” was what he communicated to the cadets. TNTA cadets always had a lecturer to count on and nurture them as long as they had the right attitude to strive for their goals.
While thinking about his time at WMI and with a smile on his face, Captain Menon told SeaVoices that coming to the WMI office was always a happy occasion and something that he looked forward to every morning. His passion for his work was so strong that his wife would jokingly suggest that he gets married to WMI instead.
COMPLETING THE VOYAGE
As part of his final words of encouragement for cadets and officers of the TNTA programme, he said, “When you embark on this career, you must make sure that you pull through till the time you become a Captain.” He urged cadets not to be short-sighted or be discouraged by the challenges and failures. The examinations may be difficult and failure is sometimes part of the journey, but “you fall, you pick yourself up, and you move on.” Captain Menon concluded by assuring cadets that once they have attained the rank of Captain, opportunities at sea and ashore are aplenty for those who have persevered.