“Don’t give up. Press on. It is only a matter of time.” That’s the powerful mantra that Capt Xie Rui Feng lives by and gets him to where he is today.
“With grit, passion, and determination, becoming a captain is within reach.”
Capt Xie should know. He waited some 11 years after receiving his COC 1 certification to get promoted and fulfill his dream of becoming a captain at ASEAN Cableship Pte Ltd, a submarine cable maintenance provider.
Before reaching this milestone, he decided he would not get married until he has gotten his COC 1. That is the tenacity this father of two displays.
He is acutely aware that seafaring is not easy. His first voyage as a cadet saw him throwing up in the Captain’s cabin.
“Even now, when the sea gets rough and typhoon is all around, I will ask myself “why did I get into this?” And each time, I go back to sea again and again. My blood is salty.”
“Seafaring is a rewarding and an exciting job. I chose it and wouldn’t trade this for any other career. I love the challenges and the camaraderie that come with it,” Capt Xie said with strong conviction.
To him, the offshore is a niche and important industry. “Most of my colleagues have been at it for some 10 to 20 years.” He recalled a memorable encounter where they picked up a five ton anchor with cables that came with a huge net loaded with the “freshest and juiciest fishes and seafood”. “We had one of the best meals onboard that day.”
Another encounter saw the team working in 40 knots of wind to repair damaged submarine cables in the Philippines. “It took us 24 days to complete the job and it was really satisfying when we did it.”
So how did Capt Xie landed up as a seafarer?
“It was an easy choice. I was in Singapore Polytechnic in 1998 and seafaring offered the highest pay with the lowest entry requirement,” Capt Xie recalled. There was no turning back after that.
His journey from Cadet to Captain, though not smooth sailing, is one that brings a sense of gratefulness to SMOU.
When he was a deck cadet in 1999, Capt Xie became a beneficiary of SMOU‘s Cadet Scholarship Scheme which was launched a year earlier. Competition was stiff as only 3 cadets were selected. Even though it was not a full scholarship, the award amounted to $3000 a year for three years.
“My family was not well off. My father was a taxi driver and my mother was working in a Seagate factory then. Without the financial help, it would have been a lot tougher to get by,” Capt Xie, the eldest of three siblings, highlighted.
In 2008, SMOU stepped in and offered timely help when Capt Xie was pursuing his COC 2. Since his company did not sponsor him, he was deemed not eligible to benefit from the Maritime Cluster Fund.
“Fortunately for me, SMOU recognises my struggle. Under the SMTF initiative, my financial burdens were lightened because the scheme helps to finance a portion of my course. I am very grateful to the union for this and it was only with the help that I continued pursuing my career and eventually obtain my COC 2,” he pointed out.
This is the reason why Capt Xie is a strong supporter of skills upgrading and the Sail Milestone Achievement Programme (SailMAP).
The program, launched by the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and tripartite partners (unions and industry) including SMOU, offers each local seafarer up to S$50,000 when they attain key career milestones, including a sign-on bonus of S$10,000 when they sign-on their first vessel as a Certificate of Competency (COC) Class 3 (deck officer) or 5 (marine engineer) holder.
“SailMAP is such a good step forward to build the Singapore core. With SailMAP, seafarers receive some income when they are studying and not sailing. They can focus on upgrading their skills and knowledge without which they can’t get promoted. Help is always welcome by the seafarers,” Capt Xie spoke out.
To pay it forward, Capt Xie serves as a SMOU General Council member. “It is important to have a younger person’s voice represented in the leadership. We face all the challenges that come with a maritime career at sea and know the support seafarers need.”
He commends the Union for going the extra mile to send food from the Lighthouse Bistro to seafarers who needed to serve quarantine in the different hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every form of encouragement goes a long way and the Union’s support given to seafarers is important,” Capt Xie said.
“The help from SMOU smoothened the bumpy road to me becoming a Captain. So press on. It is an achievable feat but it takes grit and requires you to have your eyes firmly fixed on the goal.”
If courage is contagious, may all seafarers have the same dogged determination and courage of Capt Xie to spur them on.