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Duo heeded the call of the sea as teen cadets

Captains Kevin Wong and Daknash Ganasen started out cleaning toilets and filling up sandbags on ships some 30 years ago. Capt Wong is now port master, while Capt Daknash is director of shipping and marine at MPA.
Captains Kevin Wong and Daknash Ganasen started out cleaning toilets and filling up sandbags on ships some 30 years ago. Capt Wong is now port master, while Capt Daknash is director of shipping and marine at MPA.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The duo were drawn into a maritime career by the idea of getting paid to travel and see the world - even if it included scrubbing toilets.

Sailors Kevin Wong and Daknash Ganasen gained experience on the high seas, rising through the ranks before returning to jobs at the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

On April 1, Captain Wong, 48, took over from Capt Daknash, 46, as port master - overseeing the day-to-day running of the port which has, at any one time, 1,000 vessels passing through.

The two master mariners started out wet behind the ears, as teenage cadets tasked with cleaning toilets and filling up sandbags on ships some 30 years ago.

While their friends went to college and university, the two chose the sea. Back then, that meant cycles of working on board a ship for six months, and then getting a three-month break.

For Capt Wong, a short stint on board a ship when he was 16 had piqued his interest. He was impressed by the "aura of professionalism" surrounding the crew, especially the captain in his uniform.

Capt Daknash, now director of shipping and marine at the MPA, wanted to "see the world and do something different".

SIGHTS TO BEHOLD

A sailing career is fun, you get to see things that money cannot buy - double rainbows, bioluminescence at night and icicles on your deck.

CAPTAIN DAKNASH GANASEN, on the attraction of the maritime industry.

"A sailing career is fun, you get to see things that money cannot buy - double rainbows, bioluminescence at night and icicles on your deck.

"Back then, GPS (Global Positioning System) wasn't prevalent. When you're out at sea, you have zero communication back to shore. Yes, you could use satellite communication to call (but) a 'hello' would cost you 50 bucks," said the father of two.

Both of them enrolled in the Singapore Maritime Academy and had stints in shipping firms. Eventually, Capt Wong completed a Master Mariner Certificate of Competency from MPA and also has a Master of Science (Shipping) from Nanyang Technological University.

Capt Daknash has a Master Mariner Certificate of Competency as well and a Master of Science degree in Maritime Studies.

Their paths crossed in 2013 when they were both appointed deputy port masters. The next year, Capt Daknash was promoted to the top job, with Capt Wong as his deputy.

As port masters, much of their job involves solving problems faced by vessels - be it ship repair issues or medical emergencies. The vessels include harbour craft, bumboats, bunkers and merchant ships.

Firms may also approach the port master with business proposals for new type of vessels that they want to introduce into Singapore's waters, which he then has to assess.

"At one moment we could be dealing with the ah pek (Hokkien for old man) who owns a Pulau Ubin ferry and has licensing issues," said Capt Wong, who is married and has a seven-year-old daughter.

"The next moment we could be meeting a team of executives in power suits from a maritime firm."

The role also comes with the power to investigate vessels and stop them from entering the port. In an emergency, he will lead the crisis management team.

One of the more challenging aspects involves search-and-rescue missions for people lost at sea. Capt Daknash recalled a case last year of a Singaporean worker who fell into the sea near Jurong Island. His body was found in Indonesian waters.

"The basis we work on is when people are lost at sea, we treat it as though it is our family members who are lot at sea.

"The standard operating procedures are there, but we have to follow our hearts sometimes."

The pair hope to attract more locals to join their industry. Capt Daknash said: "It's very adventurous, lucrative and the prospect is very bright as we are a maritime hub.

"You get to see and do things you won't be able to elsewhere."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2017, with the headline 'Duo heeded the call of the sea as teen cadets'. Print Edition | Subscribe