A Man with a Plan

by Luke Ashley Chan

“Sometimes when I visit a vessel out at sea at 3 a.m., I find myself thinking “What the hell am I doing here – working when people are fast asleep!?”

“But job satisfaction has always been there – it’s the reason I’ve survived all these years.”

Indeed, the love of the deep blue has been the name of the game for Azhari – Hydropro’s resident business development cum fleet manager – with decades of experience spanning across almost every sector of the deep-sea industry.

The 52-year-old mariner answered the call of the sea at the tender age of 16 as an odd-job labourer at a shipyard during school holidays. Doing whatever was needed whenever he was required, he learned the ropes from fellow mariner.

Fast forward to 2020, Azhari now wears multiple hats on the job – hard and soft – and is an indispensable part of the Hydropro family.

He describes his sector of work as a “link” – a small but vital part of the industry. Through service support, his team provides inspections for operationally ready vessels that are scheduled for large scale jobs. His inspections behind the scenes ensure a smooth assignment, with safety and timeliness being the main priority.

From being the face of the company during client acquisition to overseeing a seasoned team of capable seamen down on the docks, Azhari has a finger in almost every soup of the company and does more in one afternoon than most of us attempt to do in one day. Today, he is highly sought after for his versatility and expertise, but he reiterates that his climb to success was by no means necessarily a smooth sail.

“I have seen and done so much in my time – I’ve scraped the bottom of vessels and I’ve sat at the table with captains. But that’s the trick – nowadays, you have to be versatile!”

Hardest worker in the room

Azhari’s formula for success is simple: simply being prepared and honest hard work.

He gets in the office at 7.30 am every day – often the first one in – to get a head start on his tasks at his own pace and plan for the often long day ahead. By doing this, he can clear his head and realign his focus, putting him in the winner’s state of mind.

Even with his managerial position, Azhari shares that he never shies away from rolling up his sleeves when necessary – often lending a hand for sweaty, manual tasks such as ship maintenance. A role model by example, Azhari is the embodiment of staying humble and diligent when it comes to working.

“I prefer to be hands-on – not just giving instructions. My men say “If we go to war, we’d want you to be our platoon commander!”

Being prepared – come what may

Along with the rest of the world, the marine industry was not spared from the effects of Covid-19, with border restrictions bringing maritime business to a standstill. However, during these uncertain times, Azhari and his team chose to double down on their efforts –upgrading themselves in terms of skills, equipment, and qualifications instead of waiting for business avenues to come to them. This downtime allowed them to meet the eventual surge of demands and jobs when restrictions were lifted.

And indeed, Azhari notes now that there is a surge of jobs and opportunities. However, not everyone can meet this high demand as they are simply not prepared. Hydropro, on the other hand, spotted this window of opportunity early, and are more than capable to fill this vacuum.

Azhari puts this ability down to foresight – a must-have trait in this business. It is as important to know what is happening around the world and the industry to know what happens onboard a ship. This, he elaborates can only come from experience; it cannot be picked up or studied in school.

“We have to be like fishermen – they know where and when to fish because of experience. They know where the winds blow, how strong the current is in some waters, but this isn’t something they can tell you with words.

You can’t plan or predict something if you don’t know what’s happening around you!”

Upwards, then onwards

In his lifetime, Azhari has been hit three times with recessions. With each situation, he becomes a little wiser, learning how to roll with the punches and keeping himself afloat amidst all the turbulence. He explains – like every sector – that the offshore industry has highs and lows, this year being one of the lowest.

With foresight and planning for such lows, the mariner has managed to ride out the worst of the storm.

It is not enough to be good at what you do, he laments – one has to keep improving and upgrading himself to stay relevant in this business.

“When I was young, there was no diploma for the marine industry or offshore. But now, there so many courses available or affiliated with the marine industry. If you love the marine industry, have the proper paperwork – certifications or degrees.

You need papers to go far and remain relevant – if not, you will be stagnant till you retire.”


The Hardest Jobs, The Toughest Seas

by Luke Ashley Chan

“You wanna know my life history – in five minutes? That might be a challenge..” 

Colin Moray’s gravelly voice crackles over the phone as he sighs wistfully, and for good reason – it’s no easy feat to condense over 40 years of experience out at sea over a telephone conversation. 

Over the years, Colin has sailed the highest seas, taken part in countless dives, and seen some of the toughest deep-sea jobs through. Narrow misses, burst eardrums, and ruptured sinuses are just the tip of the iceberg for the wizened seafarer, but Colin’s determination and never-say-die attitude is the reason his beacon of clarity and decisive nature that only comes from years of experience has only propelled him forward in this unrelenting seascape where so many have not been able to stand the test of time. 

“I come home to my family, and I thank God.

As a diver, when we experience these things, and we succeed – we just accept it, and move on. But It does bring about this sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction. You’ve done something others can never do – and survived.”

Today, Colin is Hydropro’s go-to man for all things deep-sea. As a diving manager, he oversees all the safety measures and processes in the company. His role, as he explains is one of the essential pillars that support the marine industry.

Diving management ensures restrictions, laws, and legislations are adhered to. With these rules adhered to, the diver’s best interests are kept safeguarded. Albeit certain judgement calls he makes are not always the popular ones, but the result (and highest priority on his list) is always the safety of his men, and a job well done. Colin fully understands the weight of the implications and reasoning behind these many rules, and with the full support of his team and management, he has grown to be one of Hydropro’s most valuable employees – a treasure chest of knowledge and advice both in and out of the water.

“Ang moh kia, what are you doing here?”

Starting his nautical journey in 1984, Colin had his first taste of the open seas doing recreational scuba diving on St John’s island while exploring underwater photography. Finding the experience too captivating to give up, he soon became a diving instructor while doing photography for underwater inspections on the side.

One thing led to another, and he was soon roped into a construction company as a supervisor. He recalls that because of his __ heritage, his choice of career often garnered surprise from his peers in the early days. 

“Me; I learned how to drive through proper education. There was no entry requirement back then – most of the guys were labourers and gangsters with shady backgrounds and no education. They used to look at me and go “Eh, ang moh kia (Caucasian man), what are you doing here? Go to Shenton Way and find a proper job!” 

However, he always proved his naysayers wrong with his skills and expertise in the water. Working his way up as a trainee, he climbed the ropes layer by layer over the years and soon landed himself a role as an Offshore IMCA Dive Supervisor. 

But he soon realised that with age and dangerous experiences catching up, he would need soon to stop going offshore.

Risky business

Being out in the harrowing seas can be a harrowing experience – especially doing it daily for multiple years. Colin explains that in his many years of diving, flirting with danger has been a constant. He has literally been caught in between a rock and a hard place – recounting a job 100 feet underwater in Hong Kong, where his team was tasked to bury cables 7 feet deep in sticky bottom trenches. 

In the rough seas, it was man versus the elements. Due to an oversight, Colin was hit by an airlift during one of his dives and was pinned against a seabed by overpowering pressure, knocking all the wind out of him and almost crushing his ribs. 

“I couldn’t speak; every time I tried to get up, it would hit me again. After the third time, I actually thought I might die.” 

But thankfully he managed to time his escape, wriggling out of danger just as the airlift made its fourth swing towards him. That same job, he had to perform a rescue mission as a fellow diver was dragged downwards into the seabed by a tool that had become unhinged by a rusty hook. Had Colin not intervened, the diver would have been sucked into the seabed. 

However, not all were as lucky. 

“Over the years, I’ve had to bury three friends. To see the hurt in their parent’s eyes – to know and understand that feeling – it’s something you can’t get out of your system.”

Out with the old, in with the new

The days of “cowboy-style” diving are long gone today, Colin remarks. Everything is different now – more stringent procedures have been set in place, as with proper training and equipment. The present market is much safer, and Colin believes a strong and reliable team is vital to the confidence and motivation of a diver. 

“Sometimes, you do feel scared, but it’s how you manage your fears. For us, it depends on each individual to see how much trust we have in ourselves and our workmates. Men must trust their leaders and must know they can depend on them for solutions when necessary. It helps a lot when you have a team and management that supports you – and that’s the kind of environment I work in. 

Moving from a diver to a management level was a pivotal change in Colin’s career, as he explains. He is one of the few that have stood the test of time and made it to a managerial level. In the early days, many divers did not have the foresight to pick up relevant skills early on. Once they were not able to continue diving due to old age or injuries, many were forced to opt-out of the nautical life and instead became security guards and bus drivers. However, Colin chose a different path, unlearning old skills, and constantly upgrading himself with a new arsenal of skillsets over the years. This, he believes has made all the difference in his career.

Slow down, but never stop

Maritime was one of the hardest-hit industries by the Covid-19 pandemic this year, but Hydropro and Colin stand unfazed. Seeing the downtime instead as an opportunity, Colin and the upper management worked together to push a massive retraining effort of all their staff. Sustainability was the name of the game, as was emphasised by management. With the suspension of commercial jobs by clients leaving room and time, Hydropro’s local divers were sent for theory lessons to upgrade themselves for offshore training. Other personnel was pushed to pick up supportive courses like forklift operations, engine drivers, and vessel support. 

For Colin, it was a time to train, identify, and plug potential gaps and beef up areas that were present in the company. Today, he is working on helping his fellow seamen to improve underwater welding with proper techniques. With his prior experience, he is in the perfect position to provide training. 

“They (divers) won’t get good work ahead if they are not taught the fundamentals properly. Then again, none of this is written in a book – everything I’ve learnt, I learnt from discovery and experience.” 

While getting the fundamentals right, Colin is also getting with the times and familiarising himself with the latest technology. In true fashion of lifelong learning, he is also working on getting an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) to mimic a diver’s performance in certain aspects of a job. Albeit an ROV would not be able to possess the same level of dexterity, but if a pilot could handle the machine well it would still prove to be an impressive feat that would ultimately lower the overall risk level of a job and in turn provide an extra blanket of security to divers.

Diving as a stepping stone

As for advice to young divers, Colin says that clarity is vital in the long run. Diving as a career must be something you absolutely want to do and are comfortable doing. Besides, one cannot dive for all their life – a clear career path with progression is necessary for longevity in this career. Injury or even phobia can put a diver out of a job, thus while diving it is crucial to upgrade one’s skillset before it is too late. Diving is only a page out of the book of the maritime industry, thus it is important not to limit oneself to simply diving. 

“Picture this: tomorrow, you wake up and can’t dive – what are you going to do; what education do you have? If you want to stay in diving, there are other jobs to be done – you could be a technician, a technical man, management, or even a supervisor. Anything that helps support a team.”