Sea of opportunities, shore of possibilities

Being in the maritime industry does not necessarily mean a life time at sea. There are many shore-based careers to choose from, and they are equally challenging.

By Sharon Lin

Home to more than 4,000 maritime companies, with shipping tonnage reaching an unprecedented 1.3 billion gross tons last year, it is no wonder that Singapore consistently wins the accolade of “Best Seaport in Asia”. As a cosmopolitan shipping hub, the maritime industry employs some 100,000 people, contributes to a significant 7% of the country’s GDP, and provides services ranging from designing oil rigs, providing maritime legal services to buying and selling of ships.

In order to secure Singapore’s position as the region’s best, plans are underway to double the port’s handling capacity. This will create a myriad of career opportunities in the maritime industry — be it in the shore-based maritime services sector, offshore and marine engineering sector or seafaring sector. With container throughput and bunker sales reaching record levels, the maritime industry is growing at an exponential rate. This is a great time to join an exciting industry.

Be a Shipping Banker
As a shipping banker with DBS Bank Ltd, 38-year-old Esther Lim provides financial solutions for customers. Among other things, she helps customers raise capital they need to finance new vessels. Having worked in various banking departments prior to becoming a shipping banker, Esther had a wealth of experience in corporate banking, but she wanted to gain specialised expertise as well.

That was why she joined the DBS Shipping Team in late 2004. The learning curve has been steep, and Esther readily admits there is still a lot to learn. Nonetheless, she clearly enjoys her job, and she has since become the Vice-President of the bank’s Corporate & Investment Banking Group (Transport and Logistics).

To Esther, every day brings new challenges. Besides engaging customers to understand their financing needs, she also has to work closely with partners within the bank, write credit evaluations, and complete legal documents. As there are many different segments in the shipping industry, dealing with each segment requires that Esther develop an in-depth yet diverse view of the entire industry.

“Shipping is a capital intensive business, and it is rare for shipping companies to do one-off transactions with a bank,” says Esther. Every new deal needs to satisfy the long-term needs of both the customer and the bank, which makes it important for Esther to build a successful relationship with every customer.

For example, she recently secured a hefty loan of US$200 million for a Singapore-based subsidiary of a Scandinavian shipping conglomerate. It is never easy to negotiate loans of such a large quantum, and Esther certainly encountered a number of challenges along the way.

“The financing terms were challenging because this was a well-banked shipping group, and we had to do our due diligence to get internal clearance and our management’s approval,” explains Esther. Not surprisingly, she feels a great sense of achievement in securing the deal. To date, Esther has played a part in the financing or refinancing of 23 vessels. She fondly remembers the christening of the first vessel she had helped to finance. “I feel proud to have played a part, no matter how small, in making it possible,” she says with a smile.

Be a Shipping Lawyer
For 27-year-old Gan Sue Ann, it was a childhood aspiration to practise law. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Law from Leicester University in England, she continued with a Masters degree at the University College London (UCL). UCL houses the famous London Shipping Law Centre (LSLC), which provides a platform for continuing education and conducts seminars frequently at various law firms in London.

Sue Ann attended the Cadwallader Annual Memorial Lecture and ended up choosing three shipping law subjects. “LSLC was one of the main pull factors, as I enjoy participating in seminars and meeting people,” says Sue Ann. Sue Ann is now an associate at Joseph Tan Jude Benny (JTJB), a local law firm specialising in maritime law. Much of her work revolves around shipping litigation, which involves dealing with issues relating to cargo contamination, detention and cargo disputes.

On the non-contentious front, her practice areas also include ship finance, sale and purchase of newly built or second-hand ships and shipbuilding matters. “Everyday is different, from meeting clients at the office to arresting vessels,” says Sue Ann.

The maritime industry is a fast-moving sector, and clients want quick solutions to their problems. Sue Ann needs to stay very well informed in order to review complex documents and make sound decisions within a short span of time.

“Shipping lawyers have to update themselves about international conventions, treaties and regulations constantly, as the maritime industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world,” she explains. Such knowledge is important for helping her clients achieve their goals and resolve legal differences.

“A career in this industry is extraordinary in every sense of the word,” says Sue Ann. “You meet different challenges and a variety of people from all sectors. Singapore is fast growing into a maritime arbitration centre, affording Asian businessmen an alternative to dispute resolution in the Far East, and this adds to the value of practising maritime law here.”

Be a Marine Engineer
If you’ve caught Mediacorp Channel 8’s The Peak and remember Qi Yu Wu’s role in that show, you’d have a rough idea of what Ivan Lim does everyday. As an assistant project manager at Keppel Shipyard, Ivan currently manages a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading vessel conversion project. His duties include scheduling fabrication work, planning for resources and managing safety at the worksite, among many other responsibilities.

The work is hectic, but for someone who has been enthralled by the maritime industry from a young age, Ivan sees every project as an opportunity to explore his interest in the field of engineering.

“The maritime industry offers exposure to different aspects of engineering such as feasibility studies, sustainability analysis, environmental engineering, marine engineering, mechanical engineering, and control engineering,” says the 29-year-old.

“The wide range of work scope requires a lot of planning and communicating with people of different backgrounds and nationalities, which in turn, develops personal attributes such as charismatic leadership qualities and good communication skills,” he adds.

Ivan was keen to become a marine engineer since he was 16 years old. He pursued a Diploma in Marine Engineering at the Singapore Polytechnic under the Keppel Shipyard Scholarship. He went on to take a Master of Engineering (Hons) in Marine Engineering at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Currently serving with Keppel Corporation, Ivan describes his work as bold, dynamic and rewarding: “Bold, in terms of vision and leadership; dynamic, in terms of changes in project scenarios and information management; rewarding, in terms of exposure, career development and exploring my interests in marine engineering.”

“The ever busy maritime transport and the booming offshore exploration and production business provide dynamic careers for those interested in acquiring new knowledge and taking on challenges on a global scale,” continues Ivan. “If you have the opportunity to work in the maritime industry, seize it and give it your best shot.”

In 2004, Ivan was sent on an attachment to Keppel Verolme in Rotterdam for 2 months under the joint sponsorship of Keppel Offshore & Marine and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). Aside from the rig projects he was assigned to, Ivan was also given the chance to study Keppel Verolme’s product and marketing strategies as well as its in-house project management tools. It was through this experience that he was better able to appreciate the marine production business and apply theories to practical working environments. Looking back, Ivan says that “it was a priceless experience, and has broadened my understanding of the global marine industry”.

Be a Ship Broker
To Agnes Chua, not everyone can be a successful ship broker. Some important qualities that a ship broker should possess include diligence and determination. “You work long hours in the office, as well as work from home sometimes. Ours is an international market that never sleeps. Clock watchers need not apply,” says the 24-year-old, who works at Island Shipbrokers, one of the leading broking companies in the Asian region.

For example, Agnes spends a lot of her time on the phone negotiating complex deals for her clients, such as the buying and selling of ships and giving her views on market trends.

She also needs to be on her toes all the time, as competition from local and overseas ship broking houses is fierce. “Sometimes, even a minute’s delay in putting a ship in front of your client might make a difference in clinching a deal,” she explains.

There is certainly a lot of pressure in working in such a fast-paced industry, but this is what makes her job so exciting. “There is always an element of not knowing what is waiting for you when you walk into the office in the morning,” says Agnes. “It could be an offer on a ship that you were not expecting or receiving an unanticipated response to a new lead that you have been working on.”

After five years on the job, Agnes has become better at negotiating with clients. “Sometimes you may miss getting a ship to your client if he buys through another source, or fail to complete a negotiation when you have already agreed on nine-tenths of the deal. It is very frustrating but this has helped me become determined in my approach.”

These negotiations take her out of the country as well. For example, she travels frequently around Asia to meet her clients. “I love the travel aspect of my job. Apart from the challenge of developing customer relationships, I can also experience different climates and cultures, like their food and way of life,” says Agnes.

Travelling, negotiating and keeping up with the market leave Agnes with little time for play, but she is not complaining. “In ship broking, I have a good chance to make an impact at a very young age, something that other career paths may not offer. I am very happy to have chosen this route,” she says.

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