American Bureau of Shipping: Day in the life of a marine surveyor

Joseph Lim graduated with a master’s degree in Maritime Studies from Nanyang Technological University in 2007.  As master’s qualified, Lim possesses a wide range of skills including maritime operations, offshore drilling, marine engineering and team management. 

Joseph Lim

Lim is currently working at American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) as a marine surveyor.  Founded in 1862, ABS is a global leader in providing classification services for marine and offshore assets.

“A marine surveyor (classification society) inspects the ships to ensure that the ship structural, piping, machinery, safety equipment are built and maintained according to the Flag and Class requirements,” Lim said to Maritime Fairtrade in an interview.

A marine surveyor of 15 years, Lim shares about a typical day in his life as a marine surveyor and looks back at the joys, challenges and fascinating experiences throughout his career.

Notable career highlights

“I remember I travelled 44 hours including transit to Punto Arenas for a ship survey there. That’s the longest flight I ever had in my life with transit over at three locations.

“I remember Sao Paulo Terminal 1 gate entry is right in the middle of the retail shops and the way there is a long walk, and you can miss the entrance if you do not look carefully. Most do not speak English there and you need to rely on your own instinct to get to the gate for your transit flight.

“The winds and waves (on the ship to Punto Arenas) were extremely strong, it made walking and sleeping onboard quite a nightmare.”

Despite the lengthy voyage, it was indeed a once in a lifetime experience for Lim. He also shares about his experiences flying in a helicopter.

“The travel and short stay in USA, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Brunei, Kuantan, Batam as well as traveling to offshore platforms by helicopters are all very memorable experiences.

“Flying in a helicopter is quite an experience. Firstly, the flight height is lower than airplanes, so you get to see the things below more clearly. Secondly, it can fly through clouds, an experience you don’t get in airplanes.”

Never-ending days

“Ships calling at Singapore Port will request for their annual survey to be carried out whenever they have the time available. With Singapore still being one of the busiest ports in the world, we are always on stand-by for calls to attend to the ships out at our anchorage.

“The annual survey’s scope will involve ship structural inspection, machinery operational testing, safety equipment check which includes the life-boats, life-rafts, fire extinguisher system etc, and radio equipment annual inspection.

“Typically, before attendance, we will need to do thorough preparation to check on the ship’s status to understand the general condition, this will help us a great deal to know what to expect when onboard.”

Lim would also inform the ship captain what is expected from his survey and the requirements.

“All the requirements will be stated in the list for him and crew to prepare so that there will be minimum delay once I am onboard with everyone knowing what to expect. It is also expected of them to read through the list and do all the preparation work. 

“Each annual survey will take us about 14 – 16 hours depending on the size of the ships as well as the cooperativeness and readiness level of the onboard crew.

“After departing the vessel, our job still does not end as we need to update the ship and its certificate status into our system promptly. Usually, we will get half a day or full day to complete our reporting before the next assignment comes in.”

Joy and challenges of the job

 “The joy of being a surveyor is being able to ensure that the ships and onboard crew are safe from the treacherous waves out there, at the same time prevent any form of pollution to our environment,” Lim divulges that this has been ABS’s direction since 1862.

Lim also shares that he gets to travel around the world and work on a variety of ships such as “tankers, container ships, cable laying vessels, offshore support vessels, bulk carriers, liquified gas carriers, floatels and drilling rigs.

“It is amazing looking at how the naval architect designs these vessels and having a chance working on them (is wonderful). You get to meet people from all over the world and interact with them directly, something that you don’t get in an office bound job.”

However, Lim also faces challenges if “the crew are not well-versed with their own marine system operation and take a long time to carry out the operational test.” At times, a change of crew before his attendance or when the new crew is still in the stage of familiarizing with the marine systems of this ship, would pose a hindrance to his surveying work.

From time to time, in overnight surveys “where the crew are already very tired from the long day”, they tend to be uncooperative.  The lack of support from the crew would “disrupt the flow of work and greatly lengthen the whole stay onboard, inevitably affecting our next assignment and schedule.”

Words of wisdom for marine surveyors-to be

Lim conveys that he is unsure about the current pay for fresh graduates as he has been with the same company since graduation.  “I think the range now should be about S$6,000 – S$8,000 depending on your experience.” Lim says of the average pay of an experienced marine surveyor.

Lim also shares that the career path of a marine surveyor starts with the position of an entry surveyor.  It then progresses to senior surveyor and eventually to principal surveyor.  As a principal surveyor, the role will be more on nurturing younger surveyors and clients consultation regarding technical issues. 

Lim ends off by highlighting that marine surveying “is not only physically demanding under Singapore hot and humid weather, it is getting more mentally challenging as we need to constantly keep ourselves updated with the new regulatory requirements.”

Photo credit: iStock/Iam Anupong

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