Whether from the point of view of carrying out a captain’s duties, or of personal conscience, safety should always be the priority.

Capt. G.Q. Wang of Bonnie Venture shared with us his experience at sea and
how he upheld safety and people as the most crucial principle on Wah Kwong fleet.

People and Safety Always Come First: Interview with Captain G.Q. Wang

Forming Ties with Wah Kwong

I worked for HOSCO Group for a while before joining Wah Kwong. I have been on many Wah Kwong bulk carriers, namely Priscilla Venture, Cape Shanghai, Cape Victory, Sabrina Venture and so on. In my opinion, larger ships are more difficult to handle while smaller ones offer more tedious tasks as they move faster. So, they are all challenging in their own way. As for choosing the shipping industry, I knew nothing about it initially. It was when I received an early admission from school that I started to know about shipping. After a while I felt that shipping suits me and that it would provide a good career path.

As for choosing the shipping industry, I knew nothing about it initially. It was when I received an early admission from school that I started to know about shipping. After a while I felt that shipping suits me and that it would provide a good career path.

The on-board supplies from Wah Kwong are of superior quality, that’s for one; more importantly, it offers an exceptional working environment and thus an enjoyable atmosphere at work. As to why I joined, I knew of Wah Kwong’s reputation as one of the big “three shipping dynasties” in Hong Kong. In 2007 I joined as a second mate. Wah Kwong is like a big family; we feel close to one another. No exclusion, no scramble, just like family members.

From 2nd Mate to Captain, Safety Always Comes First

Each role is demanding in its own way. The difference doesn’t just lie in the number of staff you need to manage, but also in the nature of the tasks. I’m going to point out the major differences only, starting with third mate: a third mate is in charge of fire-fighting equipment and various other safety items. A second mate is responsible for nautical charts, including nautical index and designing voyages. Being a first mate is where the stress sets in; then it reaches a peak at being a captain, as operational duties is now changed to personnel management. Usually the management bears the heaviest burden.

I would say, safety. Whether from the point of view of carrying out a captain’s duties, or of personal conscience, safety should always be the priority. On matters of safety, your conscience is at stake if you only think of yourself and don’t look after your crew’s welfare, as it could break up their family.

In the past decade, I’ve witnessed considerable advances in safety control. However, it is undeniable that the younger generation have less passion and interest to work on a ship. The question then is how can we seafarers kindle their enthusiasm?

Thriller at Sea: Saving Lives Above All Else

When I was a junior officer, I was not very aware of safety. This caused an accident where I fell into the sea for 40 minutes! As winter had set in, it was hard to survive in that kind of seawater for even 30 minutes. Since then, I learnt that the utmost safety measures must be taken and that I need to improve my awareness. That is why I always remind my crew to pay extra attention to safety issues. Never underestimate the probability of an accident occurring; if safety measures are not taken properly, the odds of having an accident will be 100%.

Another recollection that jumps out is the time when I rescued a ship while sailing on Lara Venture. In September 2014, Lara Venture left a port in the Philippines half-laden when typhoon Luis passed through. Thanks to her weight, Lara Venture wasn’t affected much. We kept sailing the whole afternoon till dinner, around 7p.m. A crew member reported that someone sent out emergency calls. I immediately went back to cabin and tried to reach the first mate who called. Unfortunately, he could only speak in Filipino and we didn’t understand each other. As I did receive his distress signal and saw the ship on radar, I decided to save the ship and reported to the local rescue centre. It was pretty dark. Upon arrival, I was surprised to see that it was a large ship and many people were floating on the sea. A total of three ships took part in the rescue which lasted for around half an hour. Then another Chinese ship came but I didn’t let her in to prevent too much chaos. We cooperated and rescued 106 people in total.

This is my first time to run into such an incident, but better never again. I was uneasy, deeply concerned about potential loss of life and was very anxious. I believe all crew members felt so when they witnessed so many people drifting in the sea, including children. There were a brother and sister in the sea and the sister couldn’t swim. The brother pushed her to the boarding ladder so that she could come up. But then he was whirled away by a big wave. I really appreciate that he saved his sister out of instinct and we turned around to save him. Luckily, he was in good condition and later even joined our rescue mission.

By the time I arrived the ship had sunk already. Perhaps their life boats were underinflated. We saw no light on their life jackets. At that time the Philippines was not very developed. They might have sensed trouble at 3 or 4pm in the afternoon and hadn’t been in water long by the time we got there. Otherwise it would have been impossible to save them. Also, given that so many of them were in the sea, I guess they haven’t been in water for too long, perhaps 5 hours. Once we pulled them up to our ship, we gave them rich porridge; some even joined our rescue team. Most of them were unharmed – the one exception being their first mate who was probably injured when jumping off their ship – and could climb up to our ship by themselves and in good condition. Two other ships did witness the rescue mission. I was the first one to arrive and no one was there in command. So, I became the onsite coordinator according to international law. Later a Chinese ship came from Surigao Port to the scene. Given the great distance, I really appreciated her and I guessed they did the same thing we did - just came to save lives.

Nope, never crossed my mind at all. It was a matter of life and death. Even if I knew I would lose my job or my family, I’d still have done the same thing. Once I received the emergency call, I promptly acknowledged the DPA (Designated Person Ashore), Captain X.X. Zhang. His response was that saving lives comes first, that is undeniable; however, we need to make sure they are not pirates. It was my first time to captain a ship and his response made me reflect on myself: this is the difference between me and a DPA. I admire his ability of taking everything into consideration. I only thought of rescuing those in need while he was much more thoughtful and thoroughly weighed up the matter. Indeed, it could have been a ploy used by pirates.

A Voyage Against Raging Waves: No Pain, No Gain

I haven’t been a captain for a long time; there’re still a lot to learn. If I am given some paper work now, I might have problem dealing with it. Comparing to captains in our office who normally have over 10 years of experience, I’ve been a captain for only 4 years. When it comes to shipping, everything varies in the twinkling of an eye. So, handling various situations on board is good training; without such experiences what you get are merely theories. Certainly, we miss our family at times. We can call them on board and there is network. It is understandable that some students quit after having a taste of a seaman’s life. Afterall, people have different levels of mental capacity and that’s exactly why cultivating a good mindset is crucial to seafarers.

I disagree with this kind of attitude. Having chosen the profession, one should proceed with devotion. A captain without diligence will never make a good captain. Perhaps many seafarers aim at enjoying a stable life without aspirations to further their career. Actually, many senior executives in shipping have had years of sea experience. For instance, in Taiwanese shipping companies many people in senior management started their career as first mates. I think our company can set examples to encourage seafarers and provide them with incentives and inspirations.