Feature – A life on the ocean waves
Keith Dias is about to set sail, working as a marine engineer, after stumbling into the wrong classroom and discovering a whole new career, writes Steve Hart.
Keith Dias is now a qualified marine engineer, and it’s all down to him going into the wrong classroom while taking a Manukau Institute of Technology course at the New Zealand Maritime School.
He was nearing the end of a one-year diploma in supply chain management when he found himself in a room full of budding engineers looking at complex maths equations.
“The students were learning mechanical engineering and it all looked very interesting, so I signed up to take the course for the following year,” says Keith.
The 23-year-old had always wanted to work at sea, and had tried out for join the New Zealand Navy.
“I applied to be a geographer, and completed some training with them, but there were just five places available and I wasn’t selected,” he says.
He started the three-year diploma course in marine engineering in 2011. It covers things such as the maintenance and repair of ships’ engines, power generators, sewage treatment plants, incinerators, fresh water generators, and air conditioning systems.
Part of the course covered electrical engineering, and he also had to learn advanced first aid, search & rescue skills, and firefighting. As part of his training he went to Auckland Airport to see first-hand how to put out oil fires with Downer Engineering.
“When you are at sea, you are on your own. You can’t call the fire service or an ambulance,” says Keith. “So we are trained to handle emergency situations. On a cruise ship you will have doctors on the staff, but on a container ship you will probably won’t – so those who are onboard need to know what to do in the case of an accident or illness.
“A cruise ship may have more than 700 crew onboard, plus passengers, whereas a container ship may have a crew of less than 20 people.”
Keith now has a diploma in marine engineering as well as a certificate of competency for working at sea. His course started with six months of study followed by six months working at sea as part of a cadetship.
During his first year he was f lown out to join a cruise liner in Vancouver and sailed to places such as Alaska, Hawaii, Santiago, the Mexican Riviera, Fiji, New Caledonia and Sydney. He finished up in Hong Kong before f lying back to Auckland to continue his training.
“It gave me a chance to familiarise myself with the systems onboard a ship and I got experience doing the main job of watch keeping, which means keeping watch on all the systems, gauges, levels across the ship,” says Keith. “Cruise ships chase the sun, so I got to see some great places during shore leave.
“The good thing about this job is that you have four months working and then two months off. So there is plenty of time to do whatever you want. But if you work in the oil & gas industry, then it is even better – five weeks on then five weeks off and the pay is excellent.”
Keith will be working for Holland America Line, the firm he served his cadetship with, as fourth engineer.
“My licence qualifies me as a third engineer, but since cruise ships are quite
“The good thing about this job is that you have four months working and then two months off. So there is plenty of time to do whatever you want.”
complex your first job is normally fourth engineer,” he says.
“Then I hope to go up the ranks to third engineer’s position which involves being directly responsible for the machinery – the top job is chief engineer.
“But for starters, I’ll be doing a lot of preventative maintenance work, ensuring that all equipment is running in line with manufacturers’ specifications, checking temperatures, levels of oil and oil pressure. Watch keeping is the main part of the job, I am a qualified watch keeper.”
Keith’s skills are in high demand right now with a global shortage of marine engineers, the job features on New Zealand’s skill shortage lists.
“A lot of people are retiring from the industry right now, there are only around 1200 people working as marine engineers and they are retiring fast,” he says.
MIT graduate Keith Dias is ready to work on the high seas as a marine engineer. Photo supplied