It takes about 13 hours to fly across the Pacific Ocean from Hong Kong to the West Coast of the United States; but 35 days instead for an ocean liner to sail for a return trip for the same route, including loading and unloading of goods and replenishment at various ports. “Seafaring” may make people associate to a feeling of “solitude”. Yet, it has different meaning to our alumnus Kwok Kar Him (Kenneth) who has spent ten years working on sea-going vessels, traversing the oceans, watching the dolphins and interacting with crew from different parts of the world.
Kenneth indeed loves travelling. He wandered in Europe as backpacker for a month right after the A-Level Examinations in Hong Kong. He studied social work at university and served as a scout leader in his spare time. His dream and passion for sailing were inspired by a friend who shared with him the experience of seafaring: “In the past, what we used to know is that seamen have to start their career from more junior level as Rating in the deck or in the engine rooms. In fact, apart from Rating, there is also senior staff like Deck Officer and Engineer. These jobs are all very promising and it just takes an accumulation of working experience plus attainment of professional qualifications to enable one to move up the career ladder. For the deck department, it generally takes about ten years’ time for a Deck Cadet to be promoted to the rank of Chief Officer, and even as high as the Captain.”
It’s never too late
That was when Kenneth aged 25 he tried his luck by enrolling in the Diploma in Maritime Studies with IVE (Tsing Yi). Even now, he still owed much gratitude to Mr. Tang who interviewed him and put him on the waiting list as a “Mature Student”. Thanks to Mr. Tang, Kenneth’s talent has been realised and started his marine career on an ocean liner after graduation. In a class of more than thirty students, only six of them opted for the related jobs. The net price of a giant seagoing vessel is US$200 million, in a size measuring more than 300-metre long in a vertical height equivalent to that of the Bank of China Tower in Central. Surprisingly, this type of behemoths at sea is operated by a total of 22 people, excluding those responsible for the maintenance work in the engineering department. There are even only about ten staff or so, including captain and sailors, to be responsible for the deck operation. Kenneth has started from a Deck Cadet and endured the most demanding duties, such as being assigned to clean the toilets for three weeks. He has once been working non-stop for thirteen months on a ship with different deck officers for various tasks.
Kenneth frankly said that novices needed to bear hardship and work hard at the very beginning: “Because there are very few people working onboard the ship and the Captain needs to ascertain that you are competent to handle all the tasks of a particular post before you are considered for promotion.” The reward of assiduous hard efforts is promotion which came to Kenneth one after another. In the span of eight years, Kenneth made his progress all the way up from a Deck Cadet to a Chief Officer (the salary of about US$7,000 (HK$55,000), which is just one rank below the Captain (the salary of about US$10,000 (HK$78,000).
Rejoicing while traversing the oceans
Life at seafaring is simple and even monotonous, just embracing boundless stretches of ocean every day. But Kenneth found his joy in the midst of boredom, “I like travelling and talking to people. In my spare time, I would plan what to do when the ship disembarks at the next port of call, how I would use the ten hours to know more about the local livelihood , how to brew a local cup of tea or to learn from the Captain how to make some homemade dishes.”
During sailing time, Kenneth could see the spectacular natural landscapes easily whereas ordinary people have to strive hard to save money and holidays for the trip. “Like the sunrise at a 360 degree horizon, dolphins chasing after one another nearby the ship; killer whale, humpback whale, white whale. You can name any, which I have seen them all.” Kenneth said lightly which left the eyes of the listeners glistening and glinted with a deep yearning.
The seafaring career of Kenneth started with IVE which has provided him with the professional training and knowledge about the profession. It turned out that these knowledge which Kenneth dared not forget was the most useful when sailing at sea: “The fundamentals like correction of charts and passages planning, even if on a particular day the Global Positioning System (GPS) is out of order, by simply deploying a sextant, an chronometer clock and nautical almanac, I have the confidence in sailing ships in the vast expanse of 6,000 more nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean, with the precision of a variance of less than 2 nautical miles; I also required all my apprentices to follow my practice”, Kenneth said. In addition, the trainings of putting out fire at sea and the four-metre high platform for sea escape are all taught only at the school, and they laid the solid foundation for all students.
Life per se is a long journey
Life per se is a long journey and Kenneth also changed his course in 2016. After attaining the qualification of Master Certificate of Competency (Master Mariner) for sea-going ships in 2015, he chose to work for the Marine Department as a Marine Officer. The duties of a Marine Officer includes inter-alia controlling and regulating ports, planning the development of ports, management of sea traffic, combating marine pollution, etc. Kenneth is currently in charge of the control and regulation of the ports of Sai Kung and Tai Po areas and needs to contact with various stakeholders. Apart from immense knowledge about navigation and seafaring, he also needs to equip himself with other soft skills like communication and management techniques.
According to Kenneth, the career prospects of seafaring are in fact very broad. Apart from sea-going ships, there are also ferry companies which operate between Hong Kong and Macau and various International Association of Classification Societies which requires ship surveyors as well as experienced management staff and these jobs all need pre-requisite working experience on sea-going ships. In spite of the global economic slow-down in recent years, there are still new ocean vessel planning built one after another, implying a high demand for talents. He has a cordial advice for the young people, irrespective of their streams of studies and pursuits of future careers, they must know clearly about the requirements of the subjects and the future development of the industry, “Opportunities are always there for those who are well prepared with a clear objective in mind.”