Malaysia maritime industry: Lives go on despite pandemic

A testament to human tenacity.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the livelihood of people working in the maritime industry and although face with much hardship, they adapt and survive.  

By Celestine Foo, Malaysia correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

The pandemic has changed many things, among which is the way many people live. Those in the maritime industry, like many others, have not been spared from these changes. Seafarers and ocean conservationists alike have been affected, and have to adapt suitably. 

Taking a huge pay cut

A local turtle conservation society that gives educational tours and environmental talks to schools is facing a hard time. 

“Our salaries have been collectively reduced to make up for the reduced number of center visits and show requests that we used to receive. That was what funded our center so we had to make some compromises,” explains Asimah, a program coordinator at the center. 

They have now taken to marketing more merchandise to make up for these losses, all done via social media platforms. The community-based center also invited local women to sell their handmade craft alongside their own merchandise so as to help the locals that are also affected by the pandemic.

Despite the gravity of the situation, the team is understanding and is also willing to compromise. Most of them have small side businesses to help make ends meet. In terms of keeping the team intact, the management has managed to retain all eight employees.  This is more than just company loyalty – additionally, in spite of the hardship, all the team members are dedicated to the company’s mission.

Living a simpler life

The situation is equally dire for Greg’s*, a 29-year-old deck cadet. He started off working on a cruise ship, where he gained working experience for a year before moving on to be a deck cadet at his current company. 

His job involved packing and transporting cargo to their destinations. These trips could take months at a time but that also meant the cadets would be home for a long stretch of time in between assignments. The challenging job paid a healthy sum of salary and the lifestyle was a comfortable one, with more than enough to spend and save.  Things were fine up until Covid-19 hit. 

“There were many cutbacks and layoffs on top of a reduced number of trips. The fewer trips meant lesser pay and stricter budgeting.  I made small lifestyle changes and lived a simpler life, but I still count on side jobs,” he elaborated. 

Greg said he counts himself as one of the lucky ones. “At least I still get short trips every few months. The frequency has dropped by about 60 percent and the trip allowances have been cut, but fortunately I have savings to fall back on if necessary.” 

Of his colleagues, not many remain in employment. While some handed in resignations due to the lack of assignments, others were retrenched. Even with the downsizing, deck hands were not in high demand and only the minimally-required crew were retained. When asked how he sees himself doing in the future, Greg said he is unsure. It would all depend on whether he continues receiving enough jobs for as long as the pandemic goes on. 

A heavier workload

Meanwhile, Chris* has a different story to share. The 35-year-old commander in the Royal Malaysian Navy said he and his colleagues have not been financially impacted by current circumstances, and it is understandable as they are holding government jobs involving national security. 

Things are different for them in other ways, however. “Due to the pandemic, there have been changes in our duties and we now do border patrol, where my men and I basically monitor and prevent illegal entry into Malaysia via sea,” he explained. There are occasions where commanders receive specific government directives which exempt them from their regular duties. Often, these directives are highly classified. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has set in motion a whole chain of events which experts foresee will take years to overcome. From business moguls to regular consumers, lives have been affected in various ways. Humans, fortunately, are the most adaptable species, and in this most dire situation, we can only try to continue adapting. 

*Not real names

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Celestine Foo

Celestine Foo

Voracious reader turned writer, Celestine, based in Kuala Lumpur, has always been passionate about telling stories. Her interests lie in topics related to social and humanitarian issues. She can be found with a camera (and often, food) in hand.

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