On board the Costa Victoria as an ex-crew member
Remember the large Italian ship that capsized off the shores of Italy about a year and a half ago?
Well, I used to work for them. For the company and on board the ill-fated Costa Concordia. To prove my claim, here’s a photo, taken in 2009, with a bunch of other trainers.
So I was an ex-crew member. After working as a Campus Trainer (that’s what the position called now though it was called the Crew Lecturer before) for about 5 years, there were stories I’d had witness that could rival that of Captain Phillips’ but I’ll save those another day.
I left Costa three years ago. Ever since then, I had wandered around Indonesia and Malaysia with no specific plans for about a year. Then, I found myself juggling cafe jobs in Melbourne after I managed to secure the it’s-easier-to-get-into-Harvard-then-to-get-this Australian Work & Holiday Visa for Malaysians and with that money saved up, I went on a 4-month sojourn around Turkey, France, Germany and Holland.
Soon after all of that, I traded my freedom for a paycheck and am now pulling 12-hr shifts at an advertising agency in Singapore. Gone were my wanderlust days as I struggled to adapt to a (yawn!) cubicle job.
So when Alessandro, an Italian IT Officer, who also happened to be a good friend of mine, invited me onboard the Costa Victoria for a day, I immediately said yes! I’d missed the ship life even if I’d detested it, sometimes.
Costa Victoria was supposed to dock in Singapore every 4 days or so. I seized last Saturday to the catch the vessel at the spanking new Marina Bay Cruise Terminal.
GETTING THROUGH AND IN
When the public bus pulled into the arrival area, I caught the sight of the mid-sized Costa Victoria looming at the horizon. The yellow funnels with a big navy-blue ‘C’ painted on them, stood out majestically amidst the blue skies. Steam spiralled lazily out of them.
Getting on board as visitor is relatively easy in most countries. I remember hassle-free procedures in Savona, Ho Chi Minh and Dover. Not for Singapore, however. In Singapore, you’ll need to get a pass from the Pass Office, then through Immigration Clearance (like an airport) and then only after all of that, you’ll get to head towards the gangway of the ship where the you’ll be checked by the ship’s security dept.
At the Pass Office, the lady behind the thick glass window who took my passport shrugged and said: “Sorry, you’re not on the visitor’s list.” What do you mean I’m not on the visitor’s list? Are you certain?
She shrugged again and told me to contact whomever who invited me.
Annoyed, I called Alessandro and before he could even finish saying Ciao, I harked into the phone, “Hey, why I’m not of the guest list?”
“Of course, you are!”
“Yeah, but the Pass Office lady said I’m not. You’ll have to call the Chief Security Officer and I don’t know –”
I fumed but there was nothing else I could do. Patience wasn’t my strongest virtue. I kicked the bench like a petulant child and waited for Ale to come and get me at the Arrivals.
I haven’t seen Ale for three years now. I’d met him on my last contract on the Costa Classica and while his English was at a decent level, he came for my English classes anyway. As months passed, we became great friends and became each other’s support through out our contracts.
As I reminisced about the past, Ale came skipping through the gates with glee. Dressed in his regular crisp white uniform, he leapt to give me a hug.
“PICCOLA YING! Can’t believe you’re actually here!” He shook my shoulders happily and my teeth almost rattled. I’d forgotten how Sicilians can be really expressive.
Eventually, Ale managed to get clear me for the visit after a few more phone calls and a couple of hand shakes later.
* * *
Long lines of passengers and crew members filled the Immigrations Hall. The excitement was palpable. The air was dense with the spirit of the voyage. Everyone who was waiting in line for their passports to be inspected knew that they were all departing from point A to get to point B. Leaving a familiar place to go to the unfamiliar was expected and I yearned for that badly. The road to nowhere had eluded me ever since I started a ‘normal’ job.
From glass panelled walls of the Hall, I saw the cabin balconies, the muster station deck and the life boats that were held just above them. A thought struck me. I’m going on board but only for a day. At the end of the visit, I would leave, and the ship would continue to its next destination– without me. The usual this-will-be-home for-the-next-8-months trepidation that used to haunt me was absent. Sure, I used to get real stoked to work on the ship but my relationship with my seafaring life was a love-hate relationship. I’d looked forward to the exotic locales but along with that life came claustrophobia, politics and all that drama which I didn’t look forward to. This time, knowing that I’ll be just be enjoying the friendship that I’ve made without having to succumb to the latter restrictions of a crew member’s life felt liberating.
To embarking passengers, they saw only an opulent moving hotel with thrills and spills awaiting them. As a crew member, I only saw a jail that hold all things shinny and sparkly to keep you distracted while in actual fact, you’re a prisoner.
How did the visit go? Read more in Part Two.