Jamaica News: Marine Inspector, Kenre Valentine, says he is satisfied that he chose to be seafarer, as although the career has many challenges, it has been extremely rewarding.
Mr. Valentine, who works with the Maritime Authority of Jamaica, recalls his desire to become a seafarer from his days as a student at Titchfield High School in Portland.
“My high school is on a little headland next to the channel leading into Port Antonio Harbour. I would always see these white ships passing, which I later found out were Jamaica Producers’ ships that were transporting bananas to England,” he tells JIS News.
“Small boats would pull up to the large vessels. A man would come off and he would steer the ship into the harbour. I later discovered that this person was the Harbour Pilot and I remember thinking that it must be a nice job. You get to go to sea and come back home,” he adds.
Mr. Valentine began on the path to achieve that dream and later discovered that in preparation for this job, he would have to spend considerable amounts of time at sea.
“I began as a fireman and was transferred after a few years to the fire boat station on request. I also got an opportunity to do a Basic Seamanship course at the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard,” he says.
“I found out about the Caribbean Maritime University, which was then the Jamaica Maritime Training Institute and I attended a summer programme, after which I enrolled fully the following September,” he tells JIS News.
The Marine Inspector has sailed at as high a rank as Second Officer, which is two tiers below Captain.
He explains that the Captain, the Chief Officer and the Second and Third Officers are in charge of the deck department, which is responsible for getting the ship safely from one place to another.
In the deck department, the Second Officer is assigned duties for maintaining navigation and communication equipment and the Chief Officer has responsibility for the maintenance of the vessel.
Mr. Valentine, who is now in training at the management level, explains that to become a Captain one would have to be sailing for a number of years and go through the ranks from Third Officer to Second Officer to gain the experience, and then be trained at the management level.
He is grateful for what he has achieved in the profession and looks toward to the next step, as he recalls his own journey. He explains that his first outing at sea as a Cadet was particularly long at 14 months.
“That initial experience was unlike anything else I had been through. I had heard the stories of guys who had sailed before, but nothing can prepare you for what I would have experienced when I went out for the first time,” he tells JIS News.
“You hear people talking about being sick constantly, rough sea conditions and throwing up every single day. It is very real and having to work through that becomes a bit challenging,” he adds.
Mr. Valentine says even when you know that you are going to be (sea) sick for the rest of the trip with an 18-hour voyage to the next port, “you just know that you have to work through the sickness.”
According to the Marine Inspector, the loneliness was almost palpable. He says he would send letters home, then it would take up to four months for him to receive a response, “so I had absolutely no contact with family members or friends for months at a time.”
He had a hard time making the adjustment to cultural differences and points out that on his first tour at sea, he was the only Jamaican on board for a while until he was joined by another.
“I was on a ship where the majority of seamen were from the Philippines. It was very interesting to see how they live, what they eat and their mannerisms. Everything is completely different. They like to slap each other, which as you know is something you just don’t do to a Jamaican,” he tells JIS News.
“I remember my first meal on board. It was fried pig foot with white rice. It was different from what I was accustomed to, but there was no other option, so the choice was eat it or starve,” he says.
Mr. Valentine tells JIS News that his workday started at 6:00 a.m. and ended at 6:00 p.m.
“I was training as an officer but as an officer you have to learn to do everything, so I did chipping, painting and cleaning. I would also get some time to do navigation, so the routine varied as they tried to incorporate everything. The idea behind this is that when you become an officer and have to be supervising someone else, you will know if their job is done properly,” he says.
He explains that the language of shipping is English and although the crew at the officer level are expected to know some English in order to communicate with port officials, not all the crew speak fluent English and the language barrier proved to be a challenge.
Mr. Valentine says that life at sea comes with other challenges, including navigating through bad weather. He recounted that the scariest thing he came across was a lightning storm that impacted the city of Houston in the United States.
“At that time, my vessel was going around the coast as the port was closed. Imagine lightning every second with a different strike. That for me was the scariest experience and I have navigated in several storms across the globe. Fortunately, nothing was struck as the ship is designed with lightning rods on board that absorb whatever comes,” he notes.
According to Director General of the Maritime Authority of Jamaica, Rear Admiral Peter Brady, “without the contribution of seafarers, half of the world would freeze and the other half would starve.”
Rear Admiral Brady tells JIS News that the duty of a seafarer is a very important one, as they make an immense contribution to global trade.
He points out that they bear great personal costs while undertaking their tasks in sometimes precarious situations, adding that they are faced with the vagaries of the sea, such as stressful weather conditions and in some cases, piracy and abandonment.
“It is extremely important for the world to understand the sacrifice of the men and women who risk their lives at sea in the transportation of goods and services used in the daily lives of the world’s population,” he says, adding that unlike shore-based risk profession.
Rear Admiral Brady tells JIS News that seafarers are generally well paid and that it is a profession that gives a high sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment.
There are more than 500 Jamaican seafarers and approximately 1.5 million worldwide.
Graduates of the Caribbean Maritime University are highly sought after by international shipping interests, who have recruited graduates of the institution to man their vessels.
Shipping accounts for 90 per cent of international trade.
Source: JIS News: