Abid Salwan is a deck cadet who started his seafaring journey in 2017. Having obtained his Certificate of Competency (CoC) Class 3 in October 2021, he reminisces on his journey as a seafarer during the pandemic.
As a seafarer, Abid faced troubled waters when the pandemic first broke out. The vessel he was on was off the coast of the USA, but due to the strict travel restrictions, Abid and his crewmates were not allowed on shore after reaching port. Whilst Abid had been on board for nine long months, completing his phase two cadetship training contract, some of his other crewmates had been on board for an exhausting 15 months.
To add to their discomfort, the entire crew were all made to wear a mask and full personal protective equipment suits.
With his entire crew being alienated from those onshore, it was hard to imagine that things could get any worse –but it did. Abid started developing a skin allergy that was aggravated by the cold weather in the US and received news that his father had a cardiac arrest in Singapore.
Abid urgently contacted the management of his company through the proper channels to request his signing-off from the ship as soon as possible since he had fulfilled his contract and wanted to attend to his allergies and visit his father in the hospital.
However, Abid’s request could not be dealt with immediately due to the international scale of other seafarers that had to be attended to as well. Eventually, after many appeals between the captain and port authorities, Abid was able to receive proper medical attention onshore.
Union Steps In
Later on, Abid reached out to Senior Manager Mr Wilfred Thiang from the Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI) – the training arm of Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU) – whom he had kept in contact since his training period.
SMOU helped pave the way for Abid and his other crew members as it had a good relationship with the management of the shipping company in Singapore. The union managed to bring Abid’s predicament to the company’s attention and found opportunities and ways for the crew to sign off.
“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”, Abid said.
Seeing that the ship was en route to Panama and China which at that time were very strict on their crew change policies, the only option would be their ship’s next destination: Singapore.
Despite delays due to the pandemic, Abid fulfilled a total of 18 months of sea-time as a cadet. After being assisted in the crew change process, he was all set to complete phase three of his training back in Singapore – the CoC Class 3 Preparatory Course, and passed the examinations on his first attempt. It was during this time that Abid applied for courses to upskill himself under the MaritimeSG Together Package with a grant of 90 per cent of course fees. Furthermore, 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.
With the support of SMOU, WMI, his shipping company, NTUC’s e2i, as well as his family and friends, Abid was finally able to complete phase three of the Tripartite Nautical Training Award programme to obtain his CoC and continues to sail further in his career, hoping to inspire others interested in the maritime industry.