30 November, 2023

By Abd. Wahab

His name is Rajab. But you will never hear someone call him by that name on board. Most of the time, people call him Pak Chief. 

If you listen faintly, people seem to call him Pak Cik. A nickname usually used in Malay to call an uncle. But it is not like that. Since 2016, he has been a Chief Officer at Katharina, one of SeaTrek’s ships. That’s why people call him Pak Chief. Pak means Sir, and Chief is his position on. 

He is a friendly and very humble person. I met him for the first time when I joined the SeaTrek trip from Kaimana to Sorong on the Katharina boat. He waves his hand to me and says hello. I smile because he waves at me like he has known me for a long time. 

The Seafarer is Born 

He is 49 years old. That is not a young age for his job. But physically and mentally, he is capable. Moreover, there is no need to doubt his experience. 

He has been pursuing a professional seafaring career for 28 years. I remember one of the dialogues in the film Parasite by Bong Joon Ho. The sentence goes like this: “I admire people who work in one profession their whole lives.” And I think I agree with that statement after I met Pak Rajab. 

His professional seafaring career was growing slowly but surely. Pak Rajab began as a chef, helmsman, comprador, second officer, and chief officer, then became a captain. He has been working on cargo ships, container, and tourist ships. 

He said a person must be stubborn to survive many years at sea. Working from one position to another, from one ship to another, from one island to another, is not easy. 

There were many things he needed to do. For example, take a professional education to become a sailor. Even he is no longer young, but he said he would continue to learn and learn more.  

He knew the sea from a young age. He was born and raised in a seafaring family in Bonerate, South Sulawesi. Seafarer blood flowed in him. From his grandfather to his father and then passed down to him.  

His homeland, Bonerate, is known as one of the original seafarer areas of Sulawesi. The villagers work and live by catching fish in the sea. They are also known as wooden shipbuilders. 

Even so, he did not immediately become a sailor. When he was still in high school, his mother died. Meanwhile, at the same time, his father, who is a fisherman, was working on an island far from home. That influences his choice to pursue a career as a sailor to this day. 

Into The Heart of The Sea 

Pak Rajab has the heart of the sea. As the first child, he had to replace his father and mother as the family backbone. Once he finished high school, he had no choice but to work.

Living and growing up in a seafarer community, only two job choices are available for boys. Become a wooden shipbuilder or become a sailor. So, he began by working as a wooden boat builder in his village. A few months later, in 1996, he started his career as a sailor. 

Chief Rajab driving the Katharina ship

He worked on his uncle’s ship for two years. He is trusted to drive the vessel across the Bonerate-Selayar-Bantaeng route. This experience then led him to migrate to Surabaya. 

Starting in 1998, he began working on cargo ships. The first is by working as a chef. He is quick-witted and can help with many things. He is also can help with the steering. So, his boss entrusted him with the position of helmsman. He worked for two years as a helmsman before being appointed to the position of comprador. 

The more his career grows, the more his responsibilities increase. As a comprador, he is responsible for organizing all their cargo. He served in this role for two years. 

Next, he was appointed to become the ship officer. In the officer ranks, he began working as a second officer. This experience is, of course, a provision for him to rise to a higher position. Four years later, he became Chief Officer. This position is one level above the Second Officer and one level below the Captain. 

His career continues to grow. His experience also broadened by working from one ship to another. From cargo ships, he moved to work on container ships in 2010. 

He worked there as Captain for three years, from 2010 to 2013. Then he moved again to another container ship and worked as Chief Officer for three years. 

SeaTrek and the Story of Katharina 2 

In 2016, Pak Rajab decided to move to a travel company, SeaTrek Sailing Adventures. Here, he is working as Chief Officer on the Katharina ship.  

SeaTrek is the only company that makes him feel at home. When I asked what made him able to survive at SeaTrek? He answered, family. 

While working at SeaTrek, he had no worries about his family. He could have a lot of time with his family and help them in many ways. 

the katharina 2 fishing boat

As the first child, he succeeded in helping his siblings achieve their dreams. For example, he built a wooden fishing boat for his second brother. The results of this fishing catch greatly benefited his brother’s family. 

The ship is named Katharina 2. Same as the SeaTrek ship name. He said he deliberately chose that name because the boat was built from his efforts and savings while working at SeaTrek. 

Family is Family 

Pak Rajab has three children from his wife, whom he has been married to since 2000. They live in Bojonegoro, East Java. His first child, a girl who is now married, was born the same year. The second daughter is currently studying at university and was born in 2005. The third child was born in 2008 and is currently studying at high school. 

As a father, he should allocate time for his wife and children. He said that in his previous job, he never had enough time with his family. But on SeaTrek, he does not have to worry about that. He can always have time for work and time for family. 

Family is family. He said time for family is the most important thing. Especially with being so far apart, he often misses his family.  

When I asked what he usually does when he misses his family? “It’s easy nowadays. I can directly video call my wife and children at any time.” He answered with sparkling eyes. Then he added, “Meanwhile, in the past time, you could only send letters. The letters usually only arrive after a week.” 

Even though living and working at sea is not easy, he believes this is his way. It’s like, between himself, the sea, and the ship are inseparable parts. That’s why he continues to survive even though he has to endure missing his family. 

I asked if one of his children wanted to become a seafarer. He laughed and answered, “I don’t know if they want to work far away from family like me.” I don’t have any words when I look into his eyes, but I know what he feels.  

Then he added, “I want them to grow up with their own choices.”