The Ghost Life of Seafarers

All photographs of this blog are shot by: Karanvir Singh, Location: Port of Rotterdam

Somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Morocco, an officer in the Merchant Navy, Karanvir Singh Nayyar took off some time from his busy ship schedule of 12-14 hrs to have a conversation with me on his life in the Merchant Navy and about seafarers at large.

He believes that sea farers lead a ghost life, they come and go and people don’t know about the challenges they face in their daily job role.

People spend a fortune on a cruise trip, to be in the sea for a short period of time; the bright side of being a seafarer is that you’re paid much more than that to travel the world and to live on the deep blue oceans.

A visual treat after a crazy rain shower

To join the Merchant Navy, the perquisite is to have PCM in your 10+2 in school and then enroll in a Naval Academy College. Placements are pretty good post college and a starting salary is around 2 Lakhs per month, which is awesome for a fresher straight out of college! Karanvir, a Third Officer in the Merchant Navy at the age of 25, has sailed to almost all the continents and across all the major oceans.

He is aboard the Emma Maesrk which is the largest ship, way bigger than the Titanic and is the size of almost two football fields.

The largest container ship in the world

You do have some recreational activities on it like a swimming pool and good amenities but well, it’s no holiday!

A daily routine of a marine officer includes-checking the density of water using a mechanical apparatus, navigational duties, keeping a check on the cargo and the weather conditions, communicating with radio stations on a timely basis and a lot more things. They don’t get a single day off on the ship.

Studying doesn’t end for them in college. They give a bunch of exams, study maps and geographies to a large extent.

On the ship, ‘Safety First’ is the most important thing. They often have drills so they would be prepared in case of a fire or a ship wreck.

Fire in the engine room is deadly, there was a case of a ship in the Indian Ocean that got struck with fire and it took 10 days for it to reach the coast and the fire was still on.

There are 2 life boats on the Emma Maesrk with a capacity to hold 36 people though there are only around 25 on board. It also has small rafts for a rescue situation.

Karanvir in a practice evacuation drill on a life boat

There are no medical facilities onboard except for basic first aid. If someone has a serious ailment and is deep in the ocean somewhere, even a helicopter cannot come to rescue as that would take too much fuel. Only when the ship is around 200 nautical miles from the shore, then some help can be arranged. There is a medical radio network that be contacted to ask what kind of medication should be done to a person injured/unwell.

Because of the Covid pandemic, a lot of seafarers were stuck in the sea for 10 months to a full year, away from their families and native countries. Only very recently, have they been allowed to come back home.

Even now, social distancing is being maintained at the ports, the temperature of every person is checked by the port staff before he/she steps into the ship to unload the cargo at docks.

The risk of even one person on the ship contracting the virus would be dangerous for everyone on the board. A Japanese cruise ship was abandoned in the sea for months because most of the people had been infected.

Karanvir spoke about the importance of mental health for a seafarer. As much as the job is adventurous and would make you witness the prettiest horizons and natural phenomena of nature such as rainbows, it is essential that one stays strong. A sailor is away from his family for so long which can really be hard when one needs to be with them.

Location: Panama Canal, a waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean

You’re all alone on the ship though yes; you have your crew members as company but no one to show you love, affection, a sense of belonging. A full 5-7 months on the ship away from civilization, suicide at the sea is common in seafarers.

You won’t believe it but the threat of pirates still persists in some areas such as Somalia, the Strait of Malacca in South China Sea, in the Indian Ocean etc.

The merchant ships are unarmed with no weapons except for a few guards on board. These ships carry bulk cargo up to 1,50,000 tons which no airplanes can cover, everything from oil-clothes-food; almost 80% of the trade globally is done through these ships.

Though the Navy patrols such pirate infused areas frequently, if pirates do attack, life has more importance over cargo so they can’t really do anything except let them take the cargo. It’s like some burglars have invaded in your house but well, in this case, the house is on the sea so you can’t escape anywhere.

The reflection of cargo in a crystal ball, overlooking the Suez Canal, Egypt

I was also curious to know what happens if you see a distressed, stranded soul in the sea like it was in the movie ‘Life of Pi’. It is their duty to help such a person irrespective of his/her nationality and inform through the ship radio so the person can be dropped to the nearest port for rescue.

If red sirens are left by a ship, the international law commands that any ship that sees’s this has to follow it and help the other ship even if it wasn’t on their specific route.

There are certain problems of the land that you might also experience on the sea, on the ships. Since there is international crew on these merchant ships, sometimes there are incidents of racism, the food can also be a problem since you won’t find your native food here but more of an international cuisine. For vegetarians and vegans it’s a nightmare as the food primarily consists of meat since vegetables don’t last for so long.

Another major reason for concern is the responsibility to not harm the environment and reduce the impact of climate change which the ships add to. After human life, the environment and the sea life is of utmost importance, more than the cargo. Oil spills in the ocean have to be avoided at all costs and in case it happens, the international authorities need to be alerted so they can clean that area in the sea and control the damage.

Though ships are referred to as ‘she’ since they are guiders of the sea and protectors of the seafarers like mothers, ironically, the men: women ratio is an alarming 300:2, there are very few women in the merchant navy, often none on a ship.

There was an ancient myth that is was unlucky to have a woman on board but some of the captains got their wives along and this myth is now buried in the past as more women have started joining the merchant navy though still very less.

On the top of the deck with a navigational compass in sight

Talking about myths, Karanvir helped me to break a lot of assumptions that we all have about the sea,

For example, the Bermuda Triangle which we all have read or heard about, a stretch of water in the North Atlantic Ocean where ships and even airplanes have sunk is a pure legend. Ships often sail through this route safely now and there really isn’t any magnetic field out there. Karanvir, has crossed this route 5 times and said that it is like any other part of the sea.

It’s common to spot a variety of beautiful sea animals- dolphins, jellyfish and sailors often wake up at an early morning hour, the ‘whale hour’ in certain places to spot the gigantic whales in the ocean.

You would think that living at the sea, you might get fresh sea food but fishing is banned on ships, the risk of catching a random fish which may turn out to be poisonous and could harm the whole crew and well, one can admire the seas as much as they want but jumping into the sea off a ship, especially a marine ship is totally banned.

In rough weather, for anyone in the ship it’s quite hard to sleep, you keep feeling the ship moving left, right, up and down because of the rolling and pitching of the ship as a result of waves and external sources.

But well, the highest kind of wave, the tsunami actually doesn’t harm the ships. Your safest bet to survive a tsunami would be to be on a ship and far from the coast. The tsunami is a large wave that deeply affects the land but for a ship in the ocean, it’s just another wave!

A storm approaching in the Indian Ocean

Hope all this gave you a great insight into the ghost life of seafarers and has inspired you to keep going on and to take every challenge that comes to you with a positive attitude and also celebrate every milestone once it has been knocked off 🙂

You can follow Karanvir’s journey sailing around the world and sharing his own experiences on youtube and instagram.

The Cake of Life

– A Light Hearted Poem 🙂

Looked it up on the Internet

Felt unsure but consulted with my Gut

Red Velvet, Chocolate & Cream Cheese

Made my heart shout out with Glee

Problems, Sorrows & Worries,

Reassurance after a chit chat with my Buddies

Whip it, Shake it, Cookie cut & Break It

Listen to your heart but also mind It

Pick up the pieces, put them in a grinder Again

All smiles, the world is functioning Again

Frosting adds the extra layer of bliss to Life

As we forgive and forget while enjoying Life

As the day goes by so do a million Moods

Just like the color scheme of Macaroons

The day shall come when we shall go out for Brunch

And experience that hot crispy Waffle Crunch.

The journey of life is a lot like Cake

You can bake your happiness or show a Fake

Childhood or adulthood, nothing excites like Ice cream

I hope you have a good night’s sleep with a sweet little dream

A sweet touch to the Journey of Life

This is the Cake of Life 🙂

The Scottish Getaway 🌤☔️🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Summer 2019, I took some time off to explore Scotland for 3 days.

My sister and I took a train from London to Aberdeen, got off at Edinburgh.

I booked a student lodge just the day before which was pretty cheap and the location here matters a lot! It was near Hollyrood Park, a beautiful location.

The walk we took from the station to our lodge, 20 mins with our wheeler bags but amidst the clouds and the mountains, it felt like nothing! 

From the hustle and bustle of London, we reached a place where there was hardly anyone in sight or if you happen to spot somebody, they would be walking with the cutest dogs!

The main market of Edinburgh has great restaurants, we particularly loved the Indian food options there, lipsmacking!

The next day we woke up early to start the Arthur’s Seat Trek.

The starting point is from Hollyrood Park and it says 3 hrs or so by Google Maps.

The ascend routes were clearly mapped, though there were several routes available.

Beautiful hills, you could spot a person playing a guitar at a foothill or an artist sketching the view.

Splendour of flora and fauna.

Pristine lakes and the view of the entire city of Edinburgh is quite picturesque as we keep climbing and reaching the top.

After a while, it was just the two of us for company.

We played our favourite songs and had the time of our life at this beautiful place.

At the top, there was quite a crowd, we all felt like Kings, on top of the city.

The descent was quite amusing, the sun was setting and we followed our gut this time, chose the routes we thought were offering the best views and were short, it was a road not taken by many but worth the experience.

We were famished after the trek, ate some amazing food at a Chinese joint in Edinburgh.

I searched all the food places on Zomato.

We kept the last day for the highlands tour and to witness the beauty of the huge lakes.

We took a bus tour which was super easy.

Loved being in a big group, we didn’t have to rent a car.

We saw the hills of Glencoe- beautiful 3 hills but one can’t imagine the war that took place here.. a deadly battle, a massacre took place here years ago but the beauty of this place remains untouched.

Loch Ness was a mesmerizing long lake with black waters.

It is named after the legend of a sea monster here, by name of Nessi.

We spent some time shopping here at the Loch Ness store, it had a lot of good Scottish authentic things. 

I stocked up on some local jam, honey and mufflers, woolen caps, socks, bags, souveniers and not to miss- chocolates for family and friends.

Post a long day in the highlands, we came back, ate a little homemade quick meal, went off to sleep and woke up just half an hour before our train to London.

Catching our breath, we made it in time and couldn’t keep our eyes off the train views as we knew now we’re heading back to the hyper metro life.

Leaving the gorgeous hills and sheep behind but taking away countless amazing memories from this short and spontaneous, getaway of my dreams!❤️

Short Story: The Wisdom of Compassion

I recently had the pleasure of reading His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s :

The Wisdom of Compassion.

A story in this really stayed with me:

The US is known for having the most number of people in their prisons, an alarming  2 million adults as of 2018 (Source: CNN & Prisonpolicy.org)

Even for petty crimes like theft, some of them are not released for 8-10 years.

One such story was of Mr. Richard who was a fellow devotee of his Holiness the Dalai Lama before he got convicted for one of the petty crimes and was put in a secluded jail.

Years after he was released, he shared his story with everyone of how he dealt with his trying times.

At first, he felt very depressed and humiliated. He was angry and there was nothing he could do about it. Eventually, he started practicing meditation like he used to before being arrested.

He increased the duration of his meditation everyday slowly. It gave him so much strength and resilience. He started feeling in control of his situations even though he was in jail and could not escape it irrespective of the fact that he was hoping for the day to come when he would walk out a free man.

He said that those ten years in jail actually made him a stronger person mentally and made him feel connected with his inner self with the help of not just meditation but also practicing the law of attraction. He said he would picture himself living a free life and look forward to the day that would happen.

That was his constant motivation to do tasks in jail which would reflect on his good behavior and make his tenure as an offender less.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama was so taken aback with his story. Unknowingly, he had given the courage to someone to fight for himself in a non violent and intellectual way.

The story of Mr. Richard has intrigued millions of people across the world.

To leave you with my parting thoughts,

“For the world’s happiness, practice compassion for others but don’t forget to extend it to yourself as well.”



Emotional Quotient

(Disclaimer: This is out of observations from not just my life but also of a few others, not specific to anyone)

What is it that sets us apart from other animals in the animal kingdom?

Our emotional capabilities.

As humans, we do have our belonging needs as Mr. Maslow said in the past.

When it comes to strangers or people not that important to us, we have so much attitude to show if a fight breaks up but when it comes to those few people who matter the most- family, best friends, someone you love etc. why does all hell break lose?

Somewhere we are to blame.

When we call someone our ‘best friend’ we are giving them their due importance of how much they matter.

And if like me you give your all to any kind of relationship that you have with a close person, you are bound to get attached and have expectations.

It might seem a small thing to the other person and they may say.. why are you so sensitive? you need to grow up.. stop crying..

But the world set aside, it is the validation we seek from these people that matter and we unknowingly give them the power to hurt us.

Nobody tells us this but we need to build transparent walls in all our close relationships.. walls that don’t show to the other person in any way but walls that protect you from being emotionally dependent on them and your happiness directly related somewhat to their behaviour with you.

But then how does one love and care for someone without any inhibitions?

It’s important to understand that crying is often not a sign of weakness, as assumed by many.

It’s actually sometimes a defense mechanism so you’d rather cry and bear the pain for the moment than say worse things and make your important person feel bad and it does make you feel light once in while like how the beach is calm post a storm…

It’s better to cry it out than hold things within for months and live with that.

It’s only human to feel things, we’re not stone cold after all.

So let’s be sensitive and realistic & let others be too 🙂

Tiktok Tactics

An app that begins with a wrong spelling (Tick Tock*) does little when it comes to entertainment.

It’s a free country and I have seen some really funny ones but the 80% that trend are on makeup & fashion and how someone can magically wear clothes without putting them on…. or clean mirrors and change outfits instantly!

Is it only me or when I start seeing these, I feel my IQ’s dropped 20 points?!!

On one hand we have people who are making the country proud- scientists, business leaders and creators of real art- artists, authors, film makers etc.

You don’t have to be an extraordinary contributor but can also be a normal person with a normal job. That’s totally okay and very cool.

But I recently came across one that really made me question people.

A tiktok mix that makes a famous tiktok guy (won’t name) throw acid on a girl out of anger and she shows her face with makeup inspired by an acid attack…

It’s funny how everyone was in awe of Deepika Padukone for daring to do a challenging role of an acid attack survivor.. take note.. ‘survivor’. Such sensitive things are being made tiktoks on!

Then there are others who have 1.5 million followers by making unrealistic tiktoks on how to impress a boy/girl.. 

Imagine: these people are doing this everyday.

It’s not always about making money or doing what makes you happy for some time.

But also seeing the bigger picture- who are these tiktoks helping?

It’s a virus in itself.

We need to really support genuinely creative people like musicians, painters etc. who work hard on their craft.

If we really want to grow as individuals.. we need to step out of this app.

It’s addictive and seems fun but one doesn’t realize how dumb it gets after a point..

An hour spent making lame videos that ain’t really helping many.

For people who want to send out good messages, they’ll always have youtube and the power of social media to voice their messages and influence people.

Before our kids become tik-tok stars…

Let’s discover some genuinely interesting apps!

However nerdish it may sound =

The Wall Street Journal posts super interesting articles on what’s happening in the world.

When it comes to a fun app, why not try chess? or learn illustrator on the app and make cool designs?

There’s so much one can do if we just look beyond the easy window, that is open right in front of us 🙂