Never tired of sail­ing

Sin­ga­porean cap­tain opens up about his mem­o­rable voy­ages.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - People - By TOH YONG CHUAN

IT is May 29, a calm and sunny Mon­day morn­ing at sea.

North Korea fires a bal­lis­tic mis­sile over the sea be­tween the coun­try and Ja­pan. The Ja­panese Coast Guard is­sues a warn­ing to ships in the vicin­ity of the sea of Ja­pan.

One of the ships is Sin­ga­pore-reg­is­tered Par­si­fal. One of four ships that are the largest ve­hi­cle car­ri­ers in the world, it is helmed by Cap­tain Nordin Rais, a Sin­ga­porean.

The ship’s bridge re­ceives a warn­ing mes­sage on its com­puter printer at 6.04am. The Par­si­fal had left Masan, South Korea, about seven hours be­fore the mes­sage. It is bound for Kobe, Ja­pan.

Nordin, 66, purses his lips and says: “It’s all right. We are not in dan­ger.”

The mis­sile flew for six min­utes be­fore land­ing in Ja­panese wa­ters, some 300km away from the near­est Ja­panese is­lands.

The mis­sile in­ci­dent was the lat­est ad­ven­ture for the cap­tain, who has been sail­ing for more than 40 years.

The Mar­itime and Port Author­ity of Sin­ga­pore says it has tested and qual­i­fied 140 Sin­ga­pore­ans to helm com­mer­cial ships.

But Nordin, who is 1.69m-tall and al­ways wears a cap atop his grey hair, says the pool of ex­pe­ri­enced cap­tains is dwin­dling. “I am in the 1968 batch of Sin­ga­pore Polytech­nic grad­u­ates with a marine stud­ies cer­tifi­cate. I am the only one in the batch who is still sail­ing,” he says. “Noth­ing can sub­sti­tute ex­pe­ri­ence when han­dling un­ex­pected sit­u­a­tions at sea.”

Iron­i­cally, sea­far­ing was not his first ca­reer choice. “I wanted to join the air force af­ter com­plet­ing se­condary school in 1967. But there was no air force to join.”

“So I signed up for the two-year sea cadet course at Sin­ga­pore Polytech­nic,” he says. He com­pleted the course in 1969 and be­came a third of­fi­cer, the low­est grade for a sea­far­ing of­fi­cer.

But one of his early voy­ages al­most got him killed. He was aboard the Golden Spring, a Sin­ga­pore-reg­is­tered cargo ship owned by Guan Guan Ship­ping, when it sank near Shang­hai on Nov 5, 1971, af­ter hit­ting shal­low reefs.

“I was tak­ing a shower that night when I heard a loud bang and the ship started mov­ing vi­o­lently,” he re­calls. “From the port­hole of my cabin, I saw salted eggs fly­ing all over the place. The ship was car­ry­ing the eggs as cargo.”

When he went on deck, he saw that the ship was sink­ing and a lifeboat had been low­ered. “I jumped into the sea and swam to­wards the lifeboat.”

When asked if he feared for his life, he says: “Yes and no – a part of me felt that it was an ad­ven­ture.”

He adds: “We were res­cued by a fish­ing boat. The boat was very smelly, but I am thank­ful it saved the crew. I lost all my be­long­ings.” All 47 crew sur­vived.

The episode did not put him off sail­ing. He was pro­moted to sec­ond of­fi­cer in 1972 and chief of­fi­cer in 1976. Four years later, he mar­ried Mai­mon Mokti and stopped sail­ing, work­ing on land as a dock master for a ship­ping firm. His daugh­ter, Nura Shereen Nordin, his only child, was born in 1982.

In 1985, when she was three, he felt the itch to sail again, so he stud­ied to be a cap­tain and passed the qual­i­fy­ing ex­am­i­na­tion in 1987.

A year later, Nordin joined Swedish ship­ping com­pany Wal­le­nius Lines. He is now the old­est among three se­nior Sin­ga­porean cap­tains in the com­pany.

Asked how many and what type of ships he has helmed, he says: “I have lost count. I have been in com­mand of all types of ships, in­clud­ing oil rigs and live­stock car­ri­ers.

“I have trans­ported sheep from Aus­tralia to the Mid­dle East. The only sounds they made were ‘meh’ and ‘baah’. It is bet­ter to carry four-legged cargo be­cause they don’t com­plain as much as two-legged cargo.”

Of his travels, he says: “I have sailed as far north as the Arc­tic Cir­cle and as far south as New Zealand. I have passed through the Panama and Suez canals over 20 times.”

While he has weath­ered many storms, one in par­tic­u­lar is etched in his mem­ory.

In 1971, he was a third of­fi­cer aboard a new ship be­ing de­liv­ered from Ja­pan to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

The ship ran into a typhoon. He says: “The waves were more than five storeys high and the ship was pound­ing up and down for three days. We used ropes to tie our­selves to the beds at night but, even so, we couldn’t sleep.

“Af­ter the typhoon passed, we saw that the ship’s new coat of paint had been stripped away.”

He adds: “I learnt early in my ca­reer not to fight the weather. If we can avoid storms, we avoid.” The cap­tain ad­mits that he misses his fam­ily. He tries to FaceTime his wife and daugh­ter daily. “I also FaceTime the fam­ily cat,” he jests.

He keeps to a strict rou­tine, wak­ing up at 3am, fol­lowed by prayers and ex­er­cise on the tread­mill and weights ma­chine. He checks on the var­i­ous as­pects of the ship’s op­er­a­tion through­out the day. He has a sim­ple meal of fruit and veg­eta­bles, fol­lowed by prayers and an af­ter­noon nap.

By 9pm, he re­tires to his cabin, where he reads on­line news, checks e-mails and prays be­fore sleep­ing at about 11pm.

Some perks of the job keep him go­ing. Be­ing cap­tain of a car car­rier has al­lowed him to come close to ex­otic cars.

“I have picked up Lam­borgh­i­nis and Bent­leys from Europe and de­liv­ered them to the United States, New Zealand and Aus­tralia,” he says.

“I can­not af­ford to own these cars, but I can see them on the ship. I don’t get to drive them though as they are driven by steve­dores.”

The com­pany al­lows cap­tains and first of­fi­cers to take their fam­ily mem­bers on­board as pas­sen­gers.

“My daugh­ter sailed with me to Aus­tralia and Hong Kong. My wife sailed once, but she got sea­sick,” he says.

He laments that younger Sin­ga­pore­ans are not tak­ing up the job be­cause they find it tough to be out­side their com­fort zone.

“I took a Sin­ga­porean cadet on­shore at Panama Canal two years ago and he wanted to look for McDon­ald’s in­stead of try­ing lo­cal food,” he says, shak­ing his head.

Some­times, it is the par­ents who stop their chil­dren from sail­ing. “They see it as a tough life.”

When asked what is the best way to at­tract Sin­ga­pore­ans to join the in­dus­try, he says: “It’s very hard to an­swer the ques­tion. They must have a sense of ad­ven­ture to be­gin with.”

On how long he plans to keep sail­ing, he says: “For as long as I am healthy. More than 10 years ago, I met an Aus­tralian cap­tain and a har­bour pi­lot in Tokyo – both were 86 and still at sea. I may not be able to sail un­til I am as old as they were, but I hope to do what I love do­ing for maybe another 10 years.

“I do not get tired of watch­ing sun­rise and sun­set at sea.”

He adds: “Af­ter all these years, sea wa­ter has got un­der my skin and into my veins.”


‘Af­ter all these years, sea wa­ter has got un­der my skin and into my veins,’ says Nordin, who has been sail­ing for more than four decades.

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