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China's veteran of the sea

By Guo Zhonghua | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-26 06:49

Editor's note: Guo Zhonghua, 52, a chief engineer of cargo ships working for the COSCO Ocean Shipping (Group) Company, was named one of the top 10 seamen in China last year.

My tanned skin tells people that I am a seaman.

I have worked at sea for the past 34 years, and it took me two decades of training to move from a junior to the chief engineer on board.

My job is to guarantee safety because the engine room, as important as the heart to a human being, powers the vessel's movement and provides heating and electricity.

As the chief engineer, you are responsible for the lives of the crew. Some of them are the only breadwinner for or the only child of their families. However, due to the complicated conditions at sea, an engineer can never promise his vessel is 100 percent safe -all he (or she) can do is to get to know the machinery well and make sure it is well maintained.

It's also a job that brings a great sense of achievement. In 2002, I found out that the old merchant cargo ship I had just taken over consumed a lot of fuel. So when the ship arrived in the port of Karachi in Pakistan, I fixed about 20 of its parts. Three days after the ship returned to the sea, my first assistant engineer told me it saved 1 ton of fuel every day. Considering that every cargo ship runs almost 250 days every year, it could save a lot of energy and tens of thousands of dollars.

You have to conquer many barriers to be a seafarer, including seasickness.

I still remember the first time I went to sea, when I was 19. The ship shook like a leaf on the vast Indian Ocean as it was the Indian monsoon season. I felt nauseous all the time, but the senior engineers were never sympathetic. Instead, they gave me orders as usual.

Life at sea is also full of loneliness.

Before the 1990s, letters were the best gifts for seamen, but they were often delayed by months. The situation is much improved now as seamen have mobile phones and televisions to connect them to the outside world.

In the past few years, I have been a regular on liners to West Africa, where pirates remain a top safety risk for merchant vessels. Thanks to the Chinese navy patrolling that started in 2008, I have never met pirates.

I am going to retire in three years, but until then, I hope I can come back safe and sound every time.

Guo spoke to China Daily reporter He Dan.

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