Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I am going back to school tomorrow, or rather, going to attend a workshop on Maritime Arbitration for a couple of days at the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA) in Jalan Conlay, which will be jointly organized by Institut Kelautan Malaysia (IKMAL) and the KLRCA.

This is very exciting indeed, for we are about to introduce maritime arbitration for the first time in this country. In line with our national aspiration to become a truly major maritime nation, it is about time that resolutions of business disputes in the maritime industry be done locally unlike in the past and at present where it is very Euro-centric and most cases head towards traditional centers like London or New York. This will cut costs at least by half.

They say you will need to learn to walk before you can run, so for a start, we are going to introduce a special 'fast track' resolution and settlement of disputes for claims amounting to less than RM250,000. Something like a 'small claims' court for the Malaysian maritime industry to be administered by IKMAL under the auspices of the KLRCA. So as they say again, watch this space.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cell Phone Menace

There is an ongoing national campaign on 'road safety' this festive season, but yesterday I almost got involved in a nasty accident on the Federal Highway when the driver of the meandering car ahead of me suddenly slammed on his brakes for no apparent reason. My angry honking as I drove past did not seem to bother him since he appeared pretty agitated himself and engrossed in a heated conversation on his cell phone. I do believe that this type of drivers are a real menace to society and other road users, if not to themselves.

This reminds me of a news report a couple of years ago about a ship ramming into a Greek hillside because the captain was busy talking on his cell phone. Sheeesh. I never thought that this can also happen to ships.

It occurred to me that if the captain was indeed speaking to his girl friend on his cell phone just before the mishap, then this should give an added 'twist' to an old romantic Malay proverb, often used by young lovers to pledge undying love:

Tak kan lari gunung dikejar!
(No need to 'chase' the mountain, it wont run away ... or words to that effect)

No need to crash your ship into the damn thing either.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Shore Leave

Some time in September 1963, on the Sunday after the initial culture shock and euphoria of the first week aboard the Indian merchant navy training ship Dufferin, a rusty former World War 1 troopship then anchored a few miles offshore in Bombay harbour, the '63-'65 batch of cadets must have been looking forward to their first shore leave. Collecting their princely sum of weekly pocket money, the Bombay wallahs must have surely been waiting to show off their new uniforms to families and friends while the out-of-towners look forward to explore the city and 'paint the town red'.

While waiting for the boats to take us ashore, a chubby and genial fellow first year cadet named 'Balu' Rao must have taken pity on this 'lost' and strange looking skinny foreign kid in baggy and ill-fitting uniform and invited me to come along home with him. Balu's home was a posh apartment on the exclusive Malabar Hills in Bombay's suburbs and it was certainly an eye-opener for yours truly, barely sixteen, and many, many miles away from my own home.

I cannot recall the details of my first Indian home visit, but I do remember that we sat down to a splendid home-cooked vegetarian lunch of purees, aloo, dhall, pickles and various other assorted condiments. The food was rather strange to my young alien taste buds and I am ashamed to say now that I did not do justice to the meal and could hardly empty my plate. Balu's Mum must have been very disappointed in me. She showed concern that I will go back to the ship still hungry and so proceeded to ply me with sweets and rasgoolas instead.

I have since become a connoisseur and aficionado of the rich and diverse ways of Indian cooking.

There have been many other home stays and visits with other batch mates. I can fondly recall many happy Dufferin weekends with the Shroffs, Menons and Bedis, to name a few. Homes away from home. During the winter term breaks, I traveled the length and breadth of India to visit with the families of Banerjee and Boparai in New Delhi and David Ward and Usman Ahmad in Calcutta.

I always traveled first class (student fare) on Indian Railways and met with many kind and hospitable people very willing to share what little they had with me. On one occasion, I was 'adopted' by a noisy coach load of Indian Army captains and majors returning home from a training assignment. I had lied about my age and they got me rip-roaring drunk by the time we reached Bombay's Victoria Terminus, and I still cannot remember how I managed to find my way back to my tiny cubicle at the Mariners' Club.

Those were indeed very happy and carefree days. I am glad that almost all the names that I have mentioned above are still my friends today and with whom I am still in touch, although we are now scattered all over the globe. To the many other now nameless people who have opened up their homes and their hearts to the 'funny looking kid with pointed nose and spiky hair' (Balu's words), I thank them most copiously, from the bottom of my heart.

(Above photo was taken on shore leave with my old friend Jimmy Shroff (right), who is now still at sea and a senior captain with Japan's Mitsui Line.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

HMS Invincible

(Source: Wikipedia)

The Royal Navy's oldest aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, then fresh from the Falklands war, was docked in Singapore in the mid 80's when one of her helicopters landed on one of Port Klang's north port wharves one balmy morning, somewhat akin to an English midsummer day. It must have caused some alarm amongst the stevedores, as if the Martians have landed, when one of the 'aliens' said not so much as "Take me to your leader!" but jovially asked for yours truly by name instead.

Over tea and dry biscuits, I entertained the ship's captain and his aide. It appeared that the ship was considering Port Klang as the next port of call and they wanted to make sure that our northern approach channel and water depths were OK and to find out what facilities were available, etc. Apparently there were some hooha during their earlier visit to Australia where some environmental groups had protested the visit due suspicion she was carrying nuclear weapons, but they did not foresee similar problems in Malaysia. The ship would have been the first naval aircraft carrier to dock in a Malaysian port.

I let them have a couple of my updated navigational charts on loan and was invited by the captain to join him on the 'chopper' for a flying inspection tour to Pulau Angsa in the north channel and back. It was my first ride on a helicopter and all I remember of the occasion was that it was a very noisy affair indeed.

Earlier, my secretary Elizabeth had asked me to find out if Lt. Prince Andrew Windsor, younger son of Her Britannic Majesty, was one of the chopper pilots and to get his autograph for her. So, above the din and cupping my hands, I shouted at one of the helmeted co-pilots dressed in green battle fatigues, "Excuse me, are you Prince Andrew by any chance?"

"No, sir," came the good natured reply, "But I wish I was!"

Somehow the ship did not call at Port Klang. Perhaps Wisma Putra had other ideas. But a few months later I did receive a belated thank you note from the captain, together with a couple of brand new charts and some books and a standing invitation to visit the Admiralty in London.

Footnote: The HMS Invincible was decommissioned in August 2005 and would be mothballed until 2010, available for reactivation at 18-months notice.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Happy Chinese Lunar New Year to all my Chinese friends. The Year of the Boar and whatever it brings.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Week That Was

It has been a very busy week indeed.

On Monday, I finally managed to get a new replacement hard disk drive from Western Digital via the vendor in Imbi Plaza. It took them over a month to do this and there was no word of how and why the HDD crashed. But it was a very expensive lesson indeed and has taught me to do back ups of my data. I am also taking a couple of days to configure my PC just the way I like it.

PKFZ Authority building, Pulau Indah

Yesterday I went back to Pulau Indah with my friends and business associates Alex and Naharudin for an exploratory business visit to the new Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) to meet another old friend S.K. Foo and his immediate boss Azizul. The PKFZ which is being managed by the Port of Dubai's Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) has indeed made great progress since I last visited the place with my colleague Capt. Tasripin during the launching ceremony a couple of years ago.

Westport '97. (Photo courtesy of The Star) *

Westport also looked like it is also thriving and the container berths seemed very busy except for the conventional berths which were devoid of ships. I was sad to learn that most of the officers I had with me to kick start operations in the port in '94 are no longer there or have retired.

* Above photo and an accompanying story were featured in a maritime supplement of the The Star, circa 1997. Sorry for the 'forced' posturing ...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Hang Nadim

Hang Nadim Airport, Batam

An old friend of mine likes to tell the story of Hang Nadim, the young boy who saved ancient Singapore or Temasek from the attack of shoals of todak or swordfish.The Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals recorded how he suggested that a pagar or fence made of banana tree trunks be placed on the beach. The effort was successful as the swordfishes' snouts were trapped by the barricade of banana stems and thus the lives of many ancient kiasus were saved.

According to legend, Tanjong Pagar was the actual location where now huge container ships berth and unberth in what is now the world's busiest port.

Also according to legend, the boy's contribution earned him great respect as well as envy in the royal court. This made several individuals fear the possibility that Hang Nadim might threaten their influence. In the end, they convinced the ruler Sri Maharaja to execute the boy, and the poor fellow was thrown into the sea.

Which goes to show that it doesn't always pay to be such a smarty pants.

Recently, I received an email which suggested that the legendary Melaka warrior Hang Tuah was actually Chinese and that Hang* can only be a Chinese surname. This supposedly was because the name of the Chinese princess sent as a bride for the Sultan of Melaka by the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom was Hang Li Po. Pure coincidence, I think. The sender very conveniently forgot the story of Hang Nadim which took place much earlier elsewhere.

Which makes one wonder, even if the allegation was indeed true, why do we bother about such an inconsequential thang**, particularly at this time, missing the wood for the trees etc., when there are other important issues at hand.

* Hang (pronounced "Hung") for the uninitiated, I suppose as in William Hung, of the American Idol fame.

Thang as in "You purty lil ol thang ..."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Withdrawal Symptoms

About a month after I started this blog and as part of a perennial new year resolution, I stopped smoking or rather am trying to, cold turkey and all.

I believe I am slowly winning this battle and it is very difficult indeed. After all I have indulged in this unhealthy habit for more than forty years. Starting with stolen shared cigarette puffs at fifteen or so in the Big School lavatories at the Malay College in the early sixties and many years later a vain attempt to switch to pipe tobacco when I started piloting ships in Port Klang. The latter was more for effect to appear 'older' since piloting was indeed an old profession where age has always been associated with experience!

I am now having trouble concentrating when blogging, and my attention span has somewhat reduced without the damn thing sticking in my mouth. I am also having severe mental blocks to blog. But I shall persevere ...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

National Integration

I was glad to read in the newspapers yesterday that the government is indeed intensifying efforts to promote greater understanding and unity amongst the races by introducing more fun programs for the young to mix more freely in camps and such. The fact that increased racial polarization in the country is recognized and being addressed is surely a step in the right direction.

Last Saturday I was invited to dinner at the home of a vivacious former port colleague and her very affable hubby in Taman Sentosa, Klang. It was a happy and informal reunion/get together of ex colleagues which was becoming a regular annual affair. The fact that I was the only Malay guest invited was not lost on me and perhaps this was because I was the least paranoid as far as food is concerned and my political leanings or whatever were also well known amongst the others.

But then again, I would not have missed Poh Cheng's scrumptious seafood steamboat and yummy yam cake for the world.