Dedaces-old love affair with the sea

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singpaore celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. A veteran tells Constance Goh why he continues working in the maritime industry despite losing a brother at sea
CONSTANCE GOH The New Paper 31 Mar 16;

He has always enjoyed being out at sea.

Captain Irinjalakuda Gopalkrishnan Sangameswar's love affair with it started at 16 when he joined as a deck cadet in 1968.

He eventually rose to the rank of captain in 1979.

"Every day was a different experience and I loved the exciting nature of my job," Captain Sangam, as he is known by his colleagues, said.

"Getting to meet people from different countries is definitely another plus point," said the 64-year-old.

But about nine years after he started sailing, tragedy struck.

On July 3, 1979, Indian bulk carrier MV Kairali and all 51 crew on board went missing at sea and were never found. Among the crew was Captain Sangam's younger brother, who was 25.

Captain Sangam's mother was so worried that she asked him to quit his job. She told him: "I don't want to lose another son."

But he loved being out at sea and was reluctant to move to a desk job. Three years later, in 1982, he finally acceded to his mother's wishes.

So he joined the marine department of the then Ministry of Communications, which is now the Ministry of Transport.

The marine department merged with the National Maritime Board to form the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) on Feb 2, 1996.

MPA celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Captain Sangam, who has two children, said he thought that being desk-bound would not be as interesting, but he was proven wrong.

At MPA, he has played a major role in coordinating search-and-rescue missions. Ships would send out distress signals and his job was to send help.

On rare occasions, this meant informing the Republic of Singapore Air Force so that a helicopter would be sent to pick up sick or injured passengers.

Captain Sangam has also led many oil spill investigations.

The most notable was in 1997 when Thai-registered Orapin Global collided with Cyprus-flagged tanker Evoikos 8km off Sentosa island, spilling 28,000 tonnes of oil.

"It was the biggest oil spill to ever happen in Singaporean waters and the effects of pollution would have been dire if we had not cleaned it up in time," said Captain Sangam.

It took 400 personnel and 60 anti-pollution craft two to three weeks to clean up the spill.

In the investigation, Captain Sangam traced the ships' movements before, during and after the collision. He also read the communication charts and interviewed the captains and officers of both ships.

Both captains were found to be at fault and they were jailed and fined.


Today, as senior assistant director of the training standards department in the shipping division of MPA, Captain Sangam shares his expertise with younger generations of aspiring seafarers.

He comes up with assessments that help to certify new seafarers. This is in partnership with the Singapore Maritime Academy, a maritime training institution in Singapore Polytechnic.

"The younger generation needs to learn the importance of keeping them (seafarers) safe so that they can see another sunrise," he said.

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