To celebrate SOS’s 50th Anniversary, local members give a glimpse of their seafaring tales and experiences—some, perhaps, never before told to anyone. These stories encapsulate the humorous, courageous and vulnerable sides of seafarers, who braved thunderstorms, piracies and even suicidal thoughts thousands of miles from home.
In the first of the written series, Md B Kodrasono, an SOS Exco member and a retired Bosun. Heavily involved in the crewing and operations aspect of his job today, Brother Kodrasono shared his unending love for the sea and moments from seafaring days that remained close to his heart.
This interview is edited lightly for clarity.
You loved the sea. What are some memorable moments?
There were good and bad ones. When I’m ashore, I can enjoy myself with fellow seafarers at the seamen’s club. This is where I can forget the unpleasant experience at sea, like rough weather or typhoon. Some were so bad that the ship pitched, rolled; it felt almost like a submarine—the water levels even rose up to the bridge. On another voyage, I was sailing from Portugal to the United Kingdom on an LPG Tanker vessel, when the bow thruster caught fire. Together with our chief officer, we tried all methods to fight the fire while struggling to close all ventilation. We were exhausted when the fire was extinguished. Be that as it may, nothing can compare to witnessing refugees at sea.
You met refugees?
It was 1987. I was onboard a car carrier, sailing from Japan to Europe when we saw a boat full of refugees. There were children, babies, elderlies—all with unkempt appearance. Our captain slowed down the vessel and allowed the boat to come alongside. We opened the door and supplied them food, clothing and fuel for their boat. It was heart-rendering and pitiful. I really appreciated how our crew helped the refugees survive at sea.
Is seafaring that stressful?
Take the COVID-19 pandemic for instance. Many crew cannot sign off after completing their contracts as there are restrictions from different international ports, lockdowns imposed by countries and limited flight availability. This can’t be helped. Shipping companies must also comply with different crew-change regulations at different ports. So the crew are unfortunately stuck onboard; they can’t go ashore except for emergencies, say medical attention or VISA application. And whatever the circumstances, shipping companies must get multiple approvals from different agencies. This is only part of the story: we haven’t factored in securing a transport to ferry crew in and out of the port.
Sounds trapped, aren’t they?
In my early days, a voyage from Europe to Korea took about 50 days. You can imagine how stressful and how much tension we experienced. But as a seafarer, we’ve to take all these in. We must control our minds to ensure everything goes smoothly.