Previous hand on deck – a veteran misses the ferry heydays


Govindan Kesavan Nair admiring his ‘Pulau Pinang’ ferry mannequin given to him throughout retirement in 2003.

GEORGE TOWN: Govindan Kesavan Nair had a pensive look on his face as he appeared on the mannequin of the Pulau Pinang ferry in a glass casing.

“It’s so unhappy to see it go. I’m dissatisfied that they’re retiring these ferries,” he stated.

He has purpose to be unhappy. In any case, the ferries had been his life for 29 years from 1974 till he retired in 2003. The mannequin ferry was his retirement reward.

A protracted-time helmsman of the Penang ferry companies, he has fond recollections of engaged on the state’s transport icon at a time when it was the one – and quickest – hyperlink between the island and the mainland.

The outdated vessels are being retired within the subsequent two years for newer ferries.

Govindan, 74, has labored as a deck supervisor for all 13 ferries that criss-crossed the channel.

He first began off as a “scrubber” in 1967 (somebody who clears barnacles and different objects from the hull of the boats) on the Bagan Dalam slipway earlier than graduating to turn into a tugboat operator. He was on the payroll of the Penang Port Fee then.

Govindan holding up his competency certificates as a helmsman issued by the federal government.

Through the years, Govindan was a good head of the “commando” squad, which comprised staff who’re capable of repair, steer and handle the ferry boats.

He stated his most unforgettable second working as a tugboat operator got here when he needed to deal with the transport of prisoners utilizing “Penang”, the grand dame of ferries, to Jerejak Island in 1969.

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“We needed to load tons of of detainees after the Might 13, 1969 riots. They had been introduced from all around the nation on the Malayan Railways’ trains to the Prai harbour and into the ‘Penang’ vessel.

“And when the vessel arrived near Jerejak, we had to make use of tugboats to permit it to berth sideways, as Penang was side-loading, with simply chains at its sides, in contrast to ferries as we speak that are hoarded up.

“Afterwards, we must scrub down the ferry for concern of an infection. We made repeated journeys from Perai to Jerejak that yr,” he stated in an interview with FMT at his residence in Bukit Mertajam.

On a special incident, he stated within the 1990s on board the Pulau Undan ferry, he skilled one thing unforgettable over the last journey to the island at 12.40am. He stated first within the queue was a 27-year-old junior architect in a Perodua Kancil, who was asleep in his seat.

Former helmsman and deck supervisor of the Penang ferry companies from 1974 to 2003, Govindan, 74, at his residence in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.

“After we had been able to dock, I signalled at a pier attendant to wake him up. The second he jolted awake, he panicked and accelerated so quick the automobile fell out of the ferry.

“The automobile windscreen popped out on affect with the water. He couldn’t come out because the tide was very excessive. Sadly, he didn’t make it out alive,” he stated.

Govindan stated he additionally noticed blatant smuggling of tax-free items from the island throughout the island’s duty-free days and quite a few suicide makes an attempt.

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“I’ve personally saved 9 individuals from taking their very own lives. I bear in mind a newly-wed man who jumped into the water. He held on to a lifebuoy we hurled at him.

“One other one I bear in mind was a 67-year-old man who had pushed all the best way from Taiping to take his life at sea. We managed to cease him.

“Generally over the weekend, we might see gang fights on the deck, largely over ladies. I inform you, you see 1,001 characters on the ferry every day,” he stated.

Govindan with the wonderful service award he acquired from port operator Penang Port Sdn Bhd in 1999.

Recalling how the ferry companies had been “par excellence” again within the day, Govindan stated one needed to wait simply seven minutes for a ferry, at a time when there have been 13 ferries accessible.

Providers ran for 24 hours a day, with hourly companies previous midnight, he stated.

“The ferries had been probably the most well-maintained vessels. We might take out every thing and substitute every thing on time,” he stated, including that it was poor upkeep that has brought about the ferries to deteriorate now.

Govindan additionally is aware of the important thing stats of all his ferries, even as we speak: “The Undan, Rawa and Talang Talang had been made in Hong Kong. They’re made out of stronger metal and therefore, heavier. They’re good.

“Rimau, Angsa and Kapas are made in Pasir Gudang, Johor. They’re mild and quick. Older ones comparable to Redang, Pangkor, Aman, Labuan and Langkawi had been made in Hong Kong too, however decommissioned.

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“Solely the Lumut and the brand new Pulau Pinang are made in Hong Leong’s shipyard in Penang,” he stated.

Of the upcoming departure of the Pulau Talang Talang and Pulau Angsa ferries, inbuilt 1975 and 1981, Govindan stated it was saddening to see it go.

“The outdated ferries are what outlined Penang. They’ve survived many generations. I’m certain the appropriate individuals would have made issues work. However there may be little we will do now, I assume we simply have to maneuver on now.”


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