Intro: Welcome to Crew Life at sea podcast. Here we will share the skills you need to make your experience and adventure out at sea a success, hear inspiring stories from the experienced crew, from all diversities, gain knowledge and know your rights. Be Part of the crew life at sea, and let’s welcome your host, Raymond Crystal.
Ray: Hello and welcome to crew life at sea. Today I have a special guest with me. His name is Suresh; how do you pronounce it?
Ray: Nair, Suresh Nair. I won’t forget that because the word Nair in my country is not such a nice word, but we’re used to saying to people “hey you Nair”. So I will remember that.
Suresh: Hello dude, you are South African, but there are not too many Nair’s in South Africa, I know that.
Ray: 100% right. Suresh, could you tell us how you’ve been in this position as an IT communications officer? and what journey you went on to get there?
Suresh: Well that’s a long story. Actually, I joined the shipping industry on a cargo ship as a radio officer, so that was back in the 1980s alright. So I did that job for over 10 years, and then due to the advancement of telecommunication technology you know things got changed. So we came to a situation where they don’t need a dedicated officer to do the communication itself. So then slowly they started to give away that position so in order to continue in the shipping, I had to find another job. So I still wanted to sail on board the ships, so I had to do some conversion courses, then I found a position on passenger ships and luxury cruise ships as an IT officer. So I did some training and certifications for that, and I joined as a trainee IT officer, and after 18 years I’ve been doing this job.
Ray: What type of certificates did you have to acquire to get into this field? What type of training did you have to do?
Suresh: Well for the IT part of the certification I have an MCSC, which is a Microsoft certified system engineer certification. So then I joined a trainee systems manager, and then they promoted me as the IT officer, and then since precisely 1999 I’ve been doing this job.
Ray: Oh excellent, good job man, that’s how many years in total?
Suresh: That’s 18 years plus in IT itself and before that say about 10 years I did the job as a radio officer. So round about close to 30 years of sailing experience.
Ray: Wow, so you’re a real veteran, and people should be so proud of this man.
Suresh: I would say yes.
Ray: So let me ask you something. How difficult is it for you to get this type of job on board a ship? Is it difficult? How does it work?
Suresh: Yeah I mean actually it is difficult because sometimes it depends on the number of vacancies of a certain company. I have been with a company called we ships for the last I would say 29 years. And since I’ve been with them for a long time, so I’m a senior officer in the company, and I always had a preference to switch the job and get a position in the company. It wasn’t really hard for me but for newcomers you know there are a lot of challenges.
Ray: In India when you do apply for a job like this, what’s the process in India? That’s where you’re from right?
Suresh: That’s correct. I came as a radio officer and you know that was back in the 1980s, but if someone wants to get into this job at this time, he should have a degree in computer education plus this Microsoft certification, and very good knowledge in computer hardware. If he has to join the It and communications job, then he has to go for the radio certification which is a GMSS certification. So once that is done he can join as a trainee for some time. And then it depends on your performance, the company might promote you as an IT officer.
Ray: What part of your job is the most challenging for you?
Suresh: Well thing is that is when there is a big break down, that is the main hardware failure you know, in the cruise industry, the business highly depends on the computers and computer network. So when that goes down yes that is a serious problem. We do have shore support 24/7 so there is always someone out there to help me in case I can’t fix things myself. So that’s the kind of challenge you might face.
Ray: So you have a lot of people onshore that can assist you at any time, so even if they throw you into the deep end, you can always call for help. A lot of responsibilities you have there right?
Ray: Knowing what you know now, if you could change just one thing, what would it be? and why?
Suresh: Well you know I’ve been doing this job for 18 years and I’m really looking for a change in job. I would really like to get a job on the shore side with a little more responsibilities.
Ray: Tell the audience why you want a shoreside job.
Suresh: Well it’s been a long time, and the main thing is I do have a family. So I want to be with them or I want to spend more time with them.
Ray: You have 2 daughters if I’m not mistaken?
Suresh: Correct, a wife and 2 daughters.
Ray: How old are they?
Suresh: Well the elder daughter is 18 years old, she’s doing fashion design, and the younger one is 9 years and she’s in the 5th standard.
Ray: Well that’s very nice, that’s excellent. So tell me, living on board out at sea can be tough, tell me your accommodation space, does it suit you and how does it work?
Suresh: I do have a single cabin. Actually, I’m a 3 stripe officer, which is like a senior officer rank. And I do have certain privileges.
Ray: Do they clean your cabin?
Suresh: Absolutely, I have a cabin steward, and my laundry will be taken to the laundry.
Ray: And that means your work clothes also get done?
Suresh: Correct, work clothes, private clothes and things like that. I’m okay with that.
Ray: You don’t have many costs on board. So as an IT communications officer, there must be a lot of responsibilities involved, can you tell me a few of the daily procedures that you have to go through in your daily life as an IT officer?
Suresh: Sure. As I said it’s a combined job, a communication officer and an IT officer. So my daily routine is that it’s my responsibility to make sure that all the emergency communication equipment is in working condition, and I do have to test them daily. There’s a daily test, weekly test, monthly test. The master or captain highly depends on me when it comes to communication, emergency communication. So that is one of the main responsibilities. And of course, the computers, networks, servers and the running programs and everything is in working condition. So that’s kind of our daily checks. Then I’m on call 24/7, I do have a beeper if there is a problem they just beep me and I go and attend the problem. That’s kind of the job.
Ray: So if anybody has any kind of a problem, a printer breaks down or the computer doesn’t load, or they’ve lost their password or they just can’t even turn it on, you’re the guy they call?
Ray: But you prioritise like if there are other things that are more important, you go do those things first before you go fix the printer. For example, if the guests want to come on board and the system you use is Fidelio if I’m correct.
Suresh: Well that’s the management software on board, that has various functions that is from the gangway to the onboard accounts.
Ray: So if that goes down, what happens to you?
Suresh: Well if it goes down there are many problems, there are many reasons, the server can go down, or a station can go down, or a computer network switch can go down.
Ray: So you find the source then solve the problem. Ok not a problem. Do you find any difference when you’re working at sea on a smaller ship or big ship? Your opinion either of that?
Suresh: Well usually, I haven’t worked on a big ship like 3000 passengers, on that kind of ship I think that there is an IT department, a systems manager and under him, there are 2 or 3 assistant systems managers. But I haven’t been on such big ships. This is like working a 1-man show. It’s a small to medium kind of ship, it’s just a 1-man show. And yeah there is no assistant.
Ray: I can tell you from my experience on big ships, you’re lucky because on the big ships I think it’s not a 1-man show, it’s like a 4-man show. And it can be challenging. So on the smaller ships, I’ve noticed it’s a little calmer, but obviously, there’s a lot more pressure because it’s just 1 person. What would you tell me are the negatives and the positives of your job?
Suresh: The negative part is that you’re away from your family. You do miss them on a daily basis. And every day you do the same routine, you see the same people, it’s a 4-month contract. So for 4 months you’re doing almost the same thing, and every day there’s a challenge, and you go to the challenges, all for the sake of money. So I don’t want to say I don’t like it, that’s why I’m here. So what was the second question?
Ray: The positives?
Suresh: The positive side is that I can see the world for free, that is one thing that we get when we work on the ship. We have passengers coming with thousands of dollars to see the places where at the same time we go and see it for free, well we don’t go like the passengers, we don’t spend that much time ashore. But at least I can say I’ve been to Saigon, I’ve been to Florida, I have been to London, I have been to Europe. You know this kind of things. Well, my friend 30 years, almost every single continent. And yeah that’s a good part of it.
Ray: What positive feedback would you offer people out there who are trying to get on a cruise line to work?
Suresh: They have to see what position they want. If you look at the positions =, they have Captain to mess boy. Do they want to become and officer? Do they want to become an engineer? Do they want to work as hotel staff? So there are qualifications for each job. So first they have to find out what they want to do, what kind of job they want. Then they have to go check what kind of qualifications they need for this.
Ray: Going back to when you were talking about your family, maybe some people don’t know that we can communicate at sea for some reason, but now that I’m talking to the one and only communications officer. Can you tell me if we need to contact home how do we do it on board the ship in the middle of the ocean? Is there a way?
Suresh: Correct, yeah. Most of the ships have internet access nowadays. You have a number of ways to contact right. So when you have the internet you can contact over WhatsApp, send a text message or voice call or telephone call.
Ray: So we can use telephone calls now.
Suresh: Yeah, so I do keep in touch with my family almost every day.
Ray: That’s nice man, at least you can see them every day, and you can even show them part of the ports that you get to. Alright, big question that I ask everybody. Tell me one of the most shocking things that you have ever encountered or seen in your career at sea?
Suresh: Well once we had an accident on one of the cruise ships. It was an accident in a sense where one guest fell down to the water, down to the sea.
Ray: From what deck?
Suresh: That was from deck 6 to down to the water.
Ray: how did they fall down? The wife didn’t push him?
Suresh: No, he was alone.
Suresh: No, actually we came to know the whole story later. But it happened like this. One fine morning, say 03:30 am, one of the fireman going around the ship checking, and he just heard something fall down to the water, and he looked and it looks like a man fell into the water. He reacted immediately, he called the bridge, he informed the officer that there was a man overboard on the starboard side. Well from there the action starts. The officer on watch immediately made the announcement about the man overboard.
Then he suddenly informed the Captain, he informed the coast guard. Then I heard the announcement, I had to run to the bridge because I had to take over the communication. So that was from 03:30 that I took over the communication, I had various communication with the coast guard and various authorities, and the best part of this thing is we found this man alive after 3 or 4 hours. He was alive and he was swimming, and we just found him. We then called the coast guard helicopter, and the helicopter came and picked him up and put him on board, no they didn’t put him on board but they took him to another coast guard ship I believe. And then we came to know that it was like kind of a suicide attempt by the guest. Nobody pushed him. Well, we were so happy that we picked him up alive. And that was on the news in America at that time. Well, that is what I would say is shocking or exciting.
Ray: I’ve been at sea for 18 or 19 years and I haven’t experienced anything like that.,
Suresh: Thank god I never had any other accidents at sea or anything disastrous.
Ray: I think when I was with the one company I had a lot of, we would see a boat in the middle of the ocean just sitting there, the captain turned, he wanted to go investigate. He turned the ship towards this boat. And I’m on deck 9 looking over the thing, I see one head pop up, and another head pops up, another head, like 12 or 15 people on this dingy boat.
Illegal immigrants tried to get away from Cuba, man I couldn’t believe how many on 1 boat, that boat would have sunk in the next 5 minutes. So they just want to get to a better place, so what normally happens is they drop a tender or a lifeboat, they go down and get them, and on some of the big ships they have a big, like a little jail cell, and they put them in there, and when they get to the next port they drop them off there or they let the US coast guard come along to get them. What makes you keep coming back, Suresh? Tell me?
Suresh: Well the main thing is the life itself right? Of course, the money, plus I like to sail, I like to see the places and that’s the job I know. And if I go back home, I don’t know anything else, I would have to find a job. That’s the reason.
Ray: So with all this experience behind you when it comes to IT and communication, what is your main word of advice for them?
Suresh: Well always try to get in through a proper agency and find a good company. So once you find a good company and do a good job, and get a good report, you always get a continuous job with the company and well that’s it.
Ray: So if they want to get information and get recruited into this industry, they’d have to do it from their country and search the web, what would they search for? What did you search for? Did you just type agencies?
Suresh: Well as I said, it was a long time ago I didn’t have to type. But now it’s just going to google and there are hundreds of links alright. And also you can go through the websites of all the good companies and see the positions.
Ray: Can I ask would you be fine if anybody would like to ask you any questions or anything they might be able to send an email to you, I’ll put your email on my show notes, and then you never know, someone might actually want to get into IT and they can ask you questions. Suresh thank you so much for being part of the crew life at sea podcast, it’s great.
Suresh: Raymond I’m so happy to be with you.
Ray: Before we go, let me just tell you one more thing to the viewers, me and this guy, we had worked together 15 years ago, we worked together for about 2 or 3 years, we lost contact for about 15 years, and I met him recently in another company, I walked on the ship and I looked at the tour guide and I was like what is this.
Suresh: Yeah, this is one of the exciting parts of our jobs. We might work together on a ship and miss each other for 10 or 15 years and then all of a sudden we meet again.
Ray: Thank you so much, Suresh, it was a pleasure and keep well and I hope to see you soon.
Outro: Thanks for listening to Crew life at sea podcast. Want any of your questions answered? Send us an email [email protected] Thank you for being a part of our adventure at sea.