Often, the lines between a Ship Captain and Pilot are blurred in the minds of the public. They are two different designations, however, for two very distinct yet important jobs aboard a ship. A captain assumes full responsibility for the ship and her crew for the duration of the voyage. A pilot only assumes control over a ship, with the captain’s permission, under very specific conditions – where there is higher risk, or more difficult manoeuvring, making pilots one of the most challenging and exciting jobs in the industry.
Captain Hussain Faisal, Master Mariner, is one of the pilots employed by Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) to safely navigate ships on their way to and from the port. Speaking with Captain Faisal revealed that seafaring was in his blood from the very start, with his father before him being a ‘Sarangu’ seafarer, taking a young Faisal with him on a trip. After completing secondary education, Captain Faisal joined the National Security Service (NSS) and spent some time working inspecting incoming cargo at the old port, where MPL is located even today.
“A friend of mine brought up the idea of a career at sea. It wasn’t very easy, back then, to leave the NSS before the bond duration was completed – this was sometime around 1990.” Captain Faisal reminisced. “We applied to train as Navigation Officers and our superiors were extremely supportive of us, allowing us to switch to MSL instead, the Maldives Shipping Line back then. We had to go work on different ships, though.” After seatime, Captain Faisal studied at the Lal Bahadur Shastri College of Advanced Marine Studies and Research, in Mumbai, India. Upon completing his Second Mate exams, he returned to sea life.
“Money was tight, so we sometimes had to spend more time than necessary at sea just to raise money to study more.” He said, “I decided early that I would work hard and raise the funds for my education by myself. I remained at sea, studying and rising through the ranks until 2019, at which point I thought it was time to move to shore. I was already in command by then, and decided to apply for a job at MPL as a pilot.
” Pilots may be called upon for their expertise when navigating through a narrow channel or to a smaller port, and most ports would often have pilots with expertise in the area ready to board ships and advise the Captain as needed. Pilot licenses are often specific to the area they operate within, and the relationship between the Captain and the Pilot must be one of very clear, concise communication and mutual agreement to best manoeuvre the ship safely through any risky situation. At MPL, Captain Faisal’s duties include, among others, bringing ships in and out of the anchorage and berthing. MPL employs 09 marine pilots to fully manage the needs of the busy port. Pilotage in the Malé area, though, according to Captain Faisal, is fairly easy comparatively. “Pilotage is honestly a great career choice. If you look at it in the long term, staying at sea for life is clearly not an option for most of us. But spending a decade or so at sea, raising money and getting to become a First Mate or a Captain, once you achieve that you can start thinking of a shore job or semi-shore job with equally competitive pay.
” Prior to this, Captain Faisal had been a guest lecturer at the Centre for Maritime Studies training young cadets. While he doesn’t always get the time to pursue this particular passion due to the demands of his job, he has continued to support the development of young cadets through his work in AMMARI, the Association of Maldives Maritime Industry.
“There is a clear diminishment of locals joining sea life, but there is also an equally clear lack of local shipping companies. We are doing some work through AMMARI to try to get more cadets, and it is working to an extent, but to generate real interest we need to get rid of long-held fallacies and misconceptions about what a career at sea is.” “For example, one of the most common beliefs is that if you get seasick on a boat, then sea life is not for you. But getting seasick on a small transport boat does not mean under any circumstance that you are sure to feel sick on a large cargo vessel – it’s vastly different. I get seasick on dhonis but not on ships. When I first joined this career, the ships were not properly ballasted so they rolled a lot because of not being filled properly. Newer ship designs these days are so stabilized that they don’t roll or sway at all. There are satellite phones and messaging services, it’s not even as disconnected as people may assume it is. Technology has come a long way and has promulgated the shipping and maritime industry with it.
” Captain Faisal advocated that the true realities of sea life should be spoken about more, as some Maldivians still seem to see people who work on boats as a demeaning job, but that’s as far from the truth as possible. “A career as a Marine Pilot is an important and globally-respected career path and one where you could easily make 3-5 times as much as you would with a desk job onshore. The only condition is to have passion because if you love the sea, you will love this life.”