Highlander masters seamanship skills


AS soon as you enter the marine terminal outside the PNG LNG plant site, you will no doubt run into a man from the highlands and start to wonder what he is doing there.
Well, that man will be Otiwaise (Otix) Akala and he has earned the right to be at that place down by the sea. Akala the Marine Supervisor of the PNG LNG Marine Terminal and is responsible for loading LNG onto massive LNG carriers like the ‘Spirit of Hela’ and ‘Papua.’
Akala Otix was a typical kid growing up in the highlands, who,from his hamlet in Yasubi village amidst the Okapa ranges, never thought he would end up in a maritime role, let alone a senior one. He did stand out as a child though.
“As a kid, I always had different perspectives and ideas to what my buddies and friends had, and I guess that has played a part in where I am today,” he saysreflecting on his childhood.
After graduating from Aiyura National High School Akala was accepted to study Computer Science at the University of Technology (Unitech) in Lae the following year.
“But I decided to apply for a Mooring Master Cadetship Program offered by Chevron at Unitech which saw meenrolled at the Madang Maritime College in 1998.”
Akala completed six months of basic seamanship training at the PNG Maritime College,and then went to sea to gain the required seatime experience. Most of this was spent on Chevron’s product tankers but also on very large crude carriers (VLCC) loading in the Middle East and discharging on the east and west coasts of the US that included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hawaii and Philadelphia.
In 2000, he found himself back in college in Madang to complete a Certificate of Competency, Mate Class 3. Akala then returned to sea to be eligible to sit the exams for the next certificate of competency. The ultimate goal was to get the highest accolade which would be Master Mariner Class 1.
This continued into November 2003 whereby his life involved spendinga stretch of 3 – 4 months at sea and taking two months leave after that.
In 2004, he left Chevron for Steamship Shipping– Coastal. In March 2005, he again jumped ship, this time to join the Oil, Gas and Chemicals division of SGS (PNG) Ltd, another multinational company which specialisedin the inspection, verification, testing and certification of ships. Akala’s primary role was to do quantity surveys on the liquids discharged from the ships to the respective shore terminals in the different ports in PNG.
After four years, the itch in his legs returned and in Dec 2009, he moved to InteroilProducts Ltd (now Puma Energy) in its marine training and compliance section where he soon moved up to become Compliance and Operations Coordinator. Mid year in 2012 Akala found employment with ExxonMobil PNG Limited (formerly Esso Highlands) as a Marine Technician where two years later he was promoted to his current position of Marine Supervisor.
Looking back as a highlander in a marine job, Akala says, “You don’t have to be a bird to fly the sky or a fish to swim in the sea; ambition, the right skill set, and training can take you anywhere you want to go.”
His advice to young people who have just graduated from school, college or university is to always be flexible and be ready to adapt to new roles and responsibilities – and a new environment as well.
“In the different roles, you will need to understand what needs to be done, how to do them, and most importantly, understand why it is done that way.”
“People will respect you for your knowledge and understanding, so never underestimate yourself,’ Said Akala.

The writer is Media and Communications Advisor, Public and Government Affairs.