I RECENTLY read an article regarding INS Viraat going to Alang, a graveyard for decommissioned ships. I reminisced of the time when I was an engineer with India’s pioneer shipping company, Scindia Steam Navigation, in Bombay. The company came into being in 1919 and ruled the seas in cargo trade. It had a fleet of over 60 ships. As a ship aged and became economically unviable, it was either sold to a new company that repaired and ran the ship or it was declared unseaworthy, when it became a liability, instead of an asset.
If a ship was declared unseaworthy, Alang was its final resting place. For any officer and crew who worked on board that ship, it was a heart-wrenching moment as all that was left was the memory of a ship whose name was etched in their mind, of the wonderful, varied experiences they had on board which enhanced careers, the moments she rose and crashed with each wave, how many ports the ship had called on, and of so many untold tales. It may have been the death of the ship, but the ship lived on in the memories of all who served on her. A ship-breaker will never understand the soul and story behind each ship.
For the ship-breaker, she was just a piece of metal — to be torn apart and her parts resold to the highest bidder. Though merchant navy ships can’t be compared with INS Viraat, and whose sailors, too, must be remembering their service on her, but for the crew serving on cargo and passenger ships, attachment with their livelihood providers can’t be underestimated.
After serving for long in the merchant navy, I explored the options of a shore job. Coincidentally, while travelling on a train, a co-passenger got interested in my experience as chief engineer on board a merchant ship. He was the owner of a ship-breaking company and came straight to the point and made a lucrative job offer at Alang. For a while, I was tempted, but there was a gnawing at the back of my mind which stirred my conscience into declining his proposal. After all, it was the ships that provided me with a job, livelihood, sights of the world, and places visited, sometime with my family on board. My conscience would not permit me to tear it apart.
How could I think of a service in which I have to supervise the very breaking up of a ship that had provided me with resources for a good living? I was trained to repair and run her, even with all her age-related problems.
Just like the sea waves, life too has its crests and troughs, and so all things must come to an end, as is the law of nature. But for those whose lives have revolved around it, it leaves an indelible imprint, to be cherished forever.
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