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Sea's the boss!

Shoib is one of the youngest captains in Merchant Navy and he is a certified open water diver by PADI. He has been to more than 40 countries and loves meeting new people wherever he goes. Read on our interview #6 below - 

Keshav: Hi Shoib. Thanks so much for being with us. How are you?

Shoib: I’m good, Keshav. I’m really glad that you’ve chosen me for this. I hope you will not regret hahaha!

Keshav: Pleasure to have you here! First of all, tell me what is merchant navy?

Shoib: Merchant Navy is something like commercial navy where cargo and passengers are transported from one place to another through ships. We are the navigating officers who navigate the ships. So basically merchant navy is the commercial transportation through ships. What you do with planes is what we are doing in seas.

Keshav: Why is it called navy? It’s not related to national security, right?

Shoib: Merchant Navy is called second line of defense. I got my license from government of India. In crisis, when you need more men out there at sea to fight, we can go as a second line of defense after Indian navy. We can go and navigate the ships. We will obviously not use arms and ammunitions for sure but we are going to help the Indian navy in whatever way we can. For example, navigation is important, it’s like an art and is not everyone’s cup of tea. So they will select whoever has this license, given by government of India.

Keshav: Okay, but it’s managed by private companies?

Shoib: Yes. I am working for a Hong Kong based company for last 8 years. But in crisis, if India wants, we can come back and work for them since they have given us the license. I did my training from Shipping Corporation of India. So I started my career from there and now I am working for an MNC.

Keshav: How did you get into it? Did you always want to be in the navy business?

Shoib: I come from a family where everyone wants to be an engineer or a doctor.

Keshav: The usual Indian family!

Shoib: Yes! My family has a lot of doctors - my cousins, my uncles, and my sister. But I always wanted to do something adventurous, not 10 to 5 job. But the first line of defense, army, air force etc were not considered as profession in my family as that’s going to be very risky. So then I thought maybe I‘ll try the second line of defense haha! I got selected for Indian Navy also but I was not allowed to go for interview.

Keshav: Why weren’t you allowed?

Shoib: Too risky, not allowed by family. So merchant navy was another way to go for an adventures job as well as I have loved travelling since I was a child. Even for Merchant Navy, I really had to convince my family. There are big risks involved in this also. Not like fighting for country etc but natural perils, cyclones, which I have been through a lot of times. So those risks are there.

Last week I cleared my exam and I’m now a captain!

Keshav: Congratulations! What did your family want you to become?

Shoib: They always wanted me to become a doctor or something like that. I can tell you a story if you don’t mind.

Keshav: Please, tell me!

Shoib: I was in 11th standard and the final exam were on. The last one was a biology paper. I used to hate biology like anything and I never wanted to be a doctor but I was almost forced to study biology. I bunked that exam. The whole day, I didn’t even go near the school. I came back in the evening and told my mom, “I can’t do this!” That was the day they realized that I could become anything but a doctor! Hahaha…

I was interested in computer science. I cleared AIEEE, I was selected for architecture, but I chose merchant navy.

Keshav: Do you remember the first voyage that you went on? Tell me about that!

Shoib: This was 12th of November, 2007. It was a cold November day, and it was the first time I was going abroad. We went from Mumbai to Amsterdam, then there was a 3-4 hour drive to France. The port’s name was Dunkirk. I joined there and was very anxious. No idea what was going to happen. I met the captain. His name was Capt. Michael and he was from Tamil Nadu. He was very strict, really strict. For the first seven months, he wanted me to learn everything as soon as possible since I was a fresh trainee cadet. My day used to start at 3.30 in the morning, and it would go on till 11 o clock in night. Then it would be 3-4 hours of sleep and you start again. For the first seven months, it was like that. Not just for me, for any trainee officer it is very hectic but on that ship, it was special because of that captain. My first 9 months at sea have been really full of change for me.

Keshav: You would be continuously at sea for 9 months straight?

Shoib: No, no. We would go to a port every week mostly. From Dunkirk to Netherlands, to Liverpool, to Casablanca. So it depends on your trip and your consignments. The longest voyage on that ship was Argentina to Indonesia. It was 32 days, at a stretch, working from 4am to 11pm.

Keshav: How does it feel as a beginner not to have land beneath your feet for a month!

Shoib: It is very difficult initially. You realize you are all trapped in a 200m long ship and

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Shoib is one of the youngest captains in Merchant Navy and he is a certified open water diver by PADI. He has been to more than 40 countries and loves meeting new people wherever he goes. Read on our interview #6 below - 

Keshav: Hi Shoib. Thanks so much for being with us. How are you?

Shoib: I’m good, Keshav. I’m really glad that you’ve chosen me for this. I hope you will not regret hahaha!

Keshav: Pleasure to have you here! First of all, tell me what is merchant navy?

Shoib: Merchant Navy is something like commercial navy where cargo and passengers are transported from one place to another through ships. We are the navigating officers who navigate the ships. So basically merchant navy is the commercial transportation through ships. What you do with planes is what we are doing in seas.

Keshav: Why is it called navy? It’s not related to national security, right?

Shoib: Merchant Navy is called second line of defense. I got my license from government of India. In crisis, when you need more men out there at sea to fight, we can go as a second line of defense after Indian navy. We can go and navigate the ships. We will obviously not use arms and ammunitions for sure but we are going to help the Indian navy in whatever way we can. For example, navigation is important, it’s like an art and is not everyone’s cup of tea. So they will select whoever has this license, given by government of India.

Keshav: Okay, but it’s managed by private companies?

Shoib: Yes. I am working for a Hong Kong based company for last 8 years. But in crisis, if India wants, we can come back and work for them since they have given us the license. I did my training from Shipping Corporation of India. So I started my career from there and now I am working for an MNC.

Keshav: How did you get into it? Did you always want to be in the navy business?

Shoib: I come from a family where everyone wants to be an engineer or a doctor.

Keshav: The usual Indian family!

Shoib: Yes! My family has a lot of doctors - my cousins, my uncles, and my sister. But I always wanted to do something adventurous, not 10 to 5 job. But the first line of defense, army, air force etc were not considered as profession in my family as that’s going to be very risky. So then I thought maybe I‘ll try the second line of defense haha! I got selected for Indian Navy also but I was not allowed to go for interview.

Keshav: Why weren’t you allowed?

Shoib: Too risky, not allowed by family. So merchant navy was another way to go for an adventures job as well as I have loved travelling since I was a child. Even for Merchant Navy, I really had to convince my family. There are big risks involved in this also. Not like fighting for country etc but natural perils, cyclones, which I have been through a lot of times. So those risks are there.

Last week I cleared my exam and I’m now a captain!

Keshav: Congratulations! What did your family want you to become?

Shoib: They always wanted me to become a doctor or something like that. I can tell you a story if you don’t mind.

Keshav: Please, tell me!

Shoib: I was in 11th standard and the final exam were on. The last one was a biology paper. I used to hate biology like anything and I never wanted to be a doctor but I was almost forced to study biology. I bunked that exam. The whole day, I didn’t even go near the school. I came back in the evening and told my mom, “I can’t do this!” That was the day they realized that I could become anything but a doctor! Hahaha…

I was interested in computer science. I cleared AIEEE, I was selected for architecture, but I chose merchant navy.

Keshav: Do you remember the first voyage that you went on? Tell me about that!

Shoib: This was 12th of November, 2007. It was a cold November day, and it was the first time I was going abroad. We went from Mumbai to Amsterdam, then there was a 3-4 hour drive to France. The port’s name was Dunkirk. I joined there and was very anxious. No idea what was going to happen. I met the captain. His name was Capt. Michael and he was from Tamil Nadu. He was very strict, really strict. For the first seven months, he wanted me to learn everything as soon as possible since I was a fresh trainee cadet. My day used to start at 3.30 in the morning, and it would go on till 11 o clock in night. Then it would be 3-4 hours of sleep and you start again. For the first seven months, it was like that. Not just for me, for any trainee officer it is very hectic but on that ship, it was special because of that captain. My first 9 months at sea have been really full of change for me.

Keshav: You would be continuously at sea for 9 months straight?

Shoib: No, no. We would go to a port every week mostly. From Dunkirk to Netherlands, to Liverpool, to Casablanca. So it depends on your trip and your consignments. The longest voyage on that ship was Argentina to Indonesia. It was 32 days, at a stretch, working from 4am to 11pm.

Keshav: How does it feel as a beginner not to have land beneath your feet for a month!

Shoib: It is very difficult initially. You realize you are all trapped in a 200m long ship and you can’t go anywhere. The work culture is very different from how we work on land. First of all, discipline and hierarchy is very important. If the ship is to depart at 4 o clock at night, it will depart at 4 o clock at night. So right from the beginning you’ll come to know how strict and rule driven it is. But that said, the excitement to go to a new country almost every week was a big thing for me.

Sea has a different beauty that not everyone on land can see. We are blessed to have seen different sides of the ocean. So, initially yes you’ll feel strange as you can’t go out etc. It’s basically like ‘Big Boss’ for us hahahah! But we don’t fight hahahah! But you do have to deal with new people and you have to work like a family for 6 months.

Keshav: You said you are blessed to have seen various sides of the ocean which everyone cannot. Tell me about some.

Shoib: I have seen cyclones in the middle of the sea. How rough the oceans can be. Your ship is rolling 30 degrees to each side, it’s almost kissing the ocean and coming back. We used to play with dolls remember, you rock them and they would come back straight again because the base is heavy. Ships work on the same funda. The ship has to come back to its initial position. And when it rocks, you can go crazy, you feel nausea, you can vomit etc. That’s one part of it.

On the other hand, I have seen beautiful sunsets and sunrises at sea, I have seen three rainbows together, dolphins, sharks, whales and coral reefs. We have passed through that one near Australia, The Great Barrier Reef. Recently, that has been declared dead, really sorry to know.

Keshav: How are you able to see them from the surface!

Shoib: I am a certified diver also! Hahaha. And anyway, when you pass through that area, the color of the sea suddenly changes because of the reefs. That’s another thing people may not have noticed is that the color of sea is different in every part of the world! I think I am blessed.

Keshav: How long did that cyclone last which you referred to earlier?

Shoib: We were in South China Sea. We got into a cyclone. It has three parts, eye, the middle of cyclone, then a circle around it and an outer circle around that. When you are in the outer area, you are in the area of impact. The atmospheric pressure is usually 1010 millibars and during that cyclone it was 980. That’s what we call low depression. First time when I experienced it, it was for 48 hours and all the officers were without sleep. Similar to a cockpit in planes, we have a console called bridge in ships. Every officer was there in the bridge. The ship wasn’t moving, just rolling and pitching. Since that was my first voyage, I was sea sick as well. That can be really crazy. You’ll vomit, and if you don’t eat well, you’ll vomit blood. You’d want to go to your cabin and sleep but the captain was very strict and asked everyone to be in the bridge.

That time I realized the power of nature and the power of oceans. It can gulp the whole

world. We are nothing, just nothing. I have seen the fierce side of oceans. That’s the first time I saw it.

Keshav: How scared did that cyclone make you?

Shoib: Very, but after that incident, I am not scared of death. I lost the fear of death because we had seen that. The ship would have sunk in 3 minutes if not properly navigated and I was just 19 at that time when I saw that. So you can understand. I haven’t been scared of death or anything after that anymore, the only fear is of losing your family.

Keshav: How has your career progressed? Do you still have to work from 4 till 11?

Shoib: So initially I completed my training of being at sea for 18 months. Then you give an exam for the government of India to get your license. I got it in 2010. Then you can join as third officer, whose duty is to take care of all safety items on the ship, and apart from that you have to do navigational watch. Have you seen Captain Phillips?

Keshav: No.

Shoib: You should it watch after this. It’s anyway a must watch and you’ll get an idea of how we work. So the ship is running 24 hours a day and someone has to be there on ‘lookout’ at all times so we don’t collide like Titanic did. So I used to do that.

The next rank is 2nd officer, he had to prepare the passage plans, in consultation with the captain.

So in 2010 I was a third officer and after one year, I got promoted to Second officer. Then in 2013, I came back home and wrote an exam and cleared my Chief Officer examination. Chief Officer’s duty is to make sure the ship is stable at all times and also to manage the ship over all.

I was chief officer from 2015 till now. Then I came back this March, I appeared for another exam. And last week, 24th of November was the day I had been waiting for all these years when I finally cleared my Captain’s exam.

Keshav: you didn’t tell me the duty of the captain of the ship!

Shoib: Haha I will be experiencing it soon. But Captain is the over all in-charge of the ship. He is the link between the ship and the shore guys. I work for an MNC which has more than 700 ships, there are so many officers around the world just to manage these ships. Captain is the link between ship and them. Over all he is the commander of the ship and he decides everything on the ship. As far as the safety and security of the ship is concerned, he can take any decision on his own and he is not answerable to anyone as long as he has a justification.

Keshav: So you’re soon going to be the boss!

Shoib: hahaha, yes!

Keshav: As you described, you are out at sea for months at stretch and then you keep coming back and going. How do you manage your social life?

Shoib: it’s a very good question. Every profession has its pros and cons. For me, this is the number one problem I have faced. On my first ship, I used to get a chance to call home only once a week, because the satellite calls were expensive. After I became an officer and joined MNCs, we could send emails as many as we wanted but no social sites. For last two years though, we have good internet facilities and we can use WhatsApp. But all these are still very expensive. We pay around $20 for 100MB.

Keshav: What!!

Shoib: For the calls too, $2 per minute and it was way more expensive earlier. But that said, I feel there’s always a gap whenever I go and come back. I have so many friends but it can be difficult to meet every time. I have missed so many important occasions. The most difficult one was when I lost my mom. I was in Columbia. Purto Bolivar, Colombia and I came three weeks after she passed away. So everyone had their priorities. My priority was to be with my family when needed but I couldn’t be. So that was the biggest drawback of this profession.

Keshav: You did not know for three weeks that she had passed away or you could not go?

Shoib: No no. I knew it and that is the most difficult part.

Keshav: It would have been better not to have known.

Shoib: I used to call home every day during that time because mom was not doing well. When you get the news you realize you’re trapped in a 200m ship for two weeks before you reach the port, so you can understand what I went through.

Keshav: Is there no provision for any sort of emergency? You could be at sea for weeks or months and what if in the middle of it you have to get back?

Shoib: Very difficult. At least not unless you are badly injured and it’s a matter of your life while you are on the ship. Not for something happened to your family or you had a break up and you want to come back, no hahaha!! But I am sure every merchant navy guy has had this situation that someone dear to him died and he could not make it.

Keshav: So you miss out on your social life a lot but do you create a different one while at sea, with your colleagues?

Shoib: After you get down from the ship, probably you gel well with some colleagues but hardly there’s a chance that you’re going to sail with them again. And since hierarchy is very important in this profession, we don’t really hangout that way but yeah, we always try to take care of each other as we are away from family, home. But there’s a line always and we don’t cross it.

Keshav: What do you do while you’re jumping from one country from another?

Shoib: I have some 3-4 hobbies. I am a salsa dancer. I like photography. I am certified diver by PADI. I generally try to find a salsa social party and meet new people. That’s the biggest thing for me. I have travelled more than 40 countries, I have seen the beauty of the places, I click photos etc but now I am more interested in knowing people. I am also planning for something like what you’re doing now!

Keshav: Hahaha! Don’t take away my idea!

Shoib: No, it won’t be the same! But yeah, now everywhere I go, I socialize with people. I try to find walking city tours with other people. You have a guide with you who will tell you about the history of the place as well. Everywhere I go, I try to find that. And we do lot of shopping! Hahaha. I buy souvenirs from every place I go.

Keshav: Tell me about the time you were chased by pirates

Shoib: It happened in 2011. I was second officer at that time. We were passing near Somalia. It was during afternoon and I was on the watch. You have a radar where you can see all the other ships coming closer to you and you can take action how to keep clear of them. Right in front of me, there was a small island. From behind there, I saw three boats coming very fast at us. Now generally when you see small boats, they are slow as they may be out for fishing. But near that area, Gulf of Eden, to see such fast boats was really strange. As soon as I saw them, I could realize that they were not there for fishing. They were coming towards us, and I raised the alarm. Our captain, a Ukraninan guy, the Chief Officer, and everyone else came. We also had 4 US Navy Seals on board, they come during the time you pass the Gulf of Eden area.

So three boats were coming from the front, and a big boat coming from the right. We had taken all the precautions to distract them and tried to avoid. Then those pirates saw 4 gunmen, with bullet proof jacket and everything. When they saw them, they realized this is not a ship to mess with.

Keshav: So they didn’t actually get on board.

Shoib: No. We were really lucky. Or they were lucky! Hahaha!

Keshav: You have made captain but you said you have different plans?

Shoib: I am going for my MBA next year!

Keshav: MBA! Why?

Shoib: See I have reached the zenith of my profession. This is the highest post you can have, the Captain’s rank. As I told you my company is a huge company, it has more than 700 ships and you require lot of people to control these ships, running 24x7 all around the world. Also, I told you the major problem in this profession is not having proper social life. If I continue sailing all my life, it’s going to be the same. Most of the captains and chief engineers, after some experience they come and work for the company in some other capacity. So this degree will help me to get a better position in the same shipping industry but operating from land. Though that doesn’t mean I will quit sailing. I will finish my education first and then I’ll decide.

Keshav: Do people usually become captains at your age or you’re one of the younger ones?

Shoib: One of the youngest captains you can say. I am 30 now. Now-a-days people are rising very fast though.

Keshav: My favorite question! Pick one country where you can settle down outside India, if you had to.

Shoib: Spain. I went there for a road trip, inspired by Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara hahah! I went with one of my merchant navy friends. I covered almost all the cities in the south of Spain, Spanish Riviera. People are very warm over there and I like the culture. I like Spanish music since Salsa is performed on that. So I can really settle there! Although I am moving to Canada next year hahah! But I have realized I cannot stay at one place more than a few years.

Keshav: What does your family think about your job?

Shoib: They are actually very happy of my accomplishments. They are very supportive, my sister especially. That’s the first thing you need as a merchant navy guy, a supporting family, otherwise it can be very difficult. Like I said, I wasn’t here when my mom passed away, everything had to be taken care of by her and dad. So you need complete support from them. Even when you’re getting married, you should be very clear what you want because this job can be very challenging and you cannot do it without your spouse’s support.

Keshav: You want to say anything to anyone who may be reading, watching or listening to this interview?

Shoib: Yes, two things.

One, if you are planning to join Merchant Navy, or to be a captain, the journey is very tough. It looks glamorous but it’s very tough. The only way you can achieve it is by not giving up. That’s true to anything in life. If you want something, then don’t give up trying.

Second, I am addicted to travelling! Someone told me I am in a relationship with my passport. I travel all the time and it’s a part of me. I want to advise the same to everyone that that’s the best thing that can happen to you, travelling. You don’t have to go very far, just go to the next city and talk to new people!

Shoib can be reached at - https://www.facebook.com/shoibmd

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