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MPA scholar is determined to sail through the Covid-19 storm, come wind or weather

Photo Caption: Mr Ng has always been intrigued by Singapore’s maritime history and how Singapore is now one of the world’s busiest ports.

By Azlinda Said

When the pandemic first struck, seafarers faced the possibility of being stuck on a ship for months.

Disallowed from disembarking and flying home due to closed borders, they were forced to work on board for much longer than their contracts stipulated. Naturally, this took a huge mental toll on them.

Understanding the mariners’ plight, integrated container logistics company A.P. Moller-Maersk decided to develop a welfare and well-being strategy for all seafarers – the first to be done on a fleetwide level. 

Leading the charge is 28-year-old Damien Ng, a labour affairs manager in marine human resources who aims to help align well-being and welfare with the organisation’s values and goals. 

“Well-being includes dimensions such as social, physical and mental. Welfare refers to the initiatives, policies, procedures and processes which impact these dimensions,” explains Mr Ng. For example, on-board gym facilities and the quality of food served are welfare items which can impact one’s physical well-being.

“As an organisation, we want to ensure that the seafarer’s well-being is always considered whenever any initiative, policy, procedure or process is introduced or revised,” he adds. 

Already, he has received positive feedback from the seafarers themselves about the proposed framework.


Clear waters ahead

Mr Ng’s excitement for the project is understandable, given his passion for the industry. Since young, he has always been intrigued by Singapore’s maritime history and how Singapore is now one of the world’s busiest ports. 

Naturally, he jumped at the opportunity to study mechanical engineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas, with a full overseas scholarship from Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). 

“I chose the MPA scholarship as I wanted to contribute to the maritime sector which is closely intertwined with Singapore’s success as one of the world’s busiest ports today,” says Mr Ng, who was seconded to A.P. Moller-Maersk last April. 

His job scope includes working on human resource policies for the company’s seafarers, such as investigating complaints and negotiating collective bargaining agreements with unions. 

Despite the challenges of this “new normal”, he remains upbeat about the future of the maritime industry. After all, there are opportunities to be seized in every crisis, he muses.

“Covid-19 sped up digitalisation of the industry. Previously, seafarers could only contact family back home using telephone cards. Nowadays, most vessels have Internet on board and seafarers can easily video- or voice-call their folks.”

One day, he reckons, augmented reality technology may potentially be used to allow family members to virtually join the seafarer so that they can better understand what life is like on board a vessel.

“To be successful in these volatile times, we must welcome change and do our best to respond to it. We have to be comfortable making decisions even without all the necessary information available,” he says. 

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