Learning > Inspiration

Merdeka Generation: Former PSA diver recalls adventures under the sea, including finding a body

While the pioneer leaders were the architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story of our Merdeka Generation, those born in the 1950s who lived and persevered through a tumultuous period.

Cara Wong on 17 Jul 2019

The Straits Times


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As a retired professional diver who spent a lot of time looking for cargo that had fallen overboard, Mr Shaik Mohammad M. K. Mohideen has come across all sorts of things at the bottom of the sea.


But one particular assignment stands out for him.


Mr Shaik and his diving partner were trying to locate a sunken ship off the coast when they spotted what looked like a "big doll" lying in the vessel on the seabed.


"But I saw that the "doll" was wearing shoes... had black hair... and was lying face down," he said.


The body was that of the sunken boat's master, who was also reported to be missing just the day before, Mr Shaik recalled.


"It was my first time seeing a body, but thank goodness it was the only time. It was very shocking," he said.


This was just one of the many adventures that Mr Shaik, now 64, recalled he had in his 23 years of working with port operator PSA Corporation. "Every day was an adventure, the sea is not the same every day," he said.


The second of seven children whose parents owned a provision shop, Mr Shaik first joined the marine industry as a ship repairman at Sembawang Shipyard.


The place was the "nearest job centre" to Mr Shaik, who was born and raised in Kampung Sembawang.


"Most of the people living in the area worked there. Back then, people never travelled very far from home for work," he said.


He grew interested in diving, after watching the popular American TV series Sea Hunt. Its main character was a former naval diver turned freelance diver who undertook difficult and dangerous projects.


"Somehow... I thought, I must become like that," said Mr Shaik.


He applied to be a trainee diver with Sembawang Shipyard and then went through a gruelling qualifying test which included swimming 10 laps in a pool, and another two more while carrying heavy bricks - "to make sure that you don't sink", said Mr Shaik.


He passed the test, and was soon working as a professional diver, helping to inspect and maintain ships and marine buoys. He was also frequently called upon to retrieve cargo that had accidentally fallen into the sea.


In 1980, the then 25-year-old Mr Shaik joined the Port of Singapore Authority - the statutory board that was the forerunner of the privately run PSA Corp - as one of its three professional divers.


Among his earliest jobs with PSA was retrieving the wreckage from the Sentosa cable car tragedy in 1983. In that incident, seven people were killed after an oil drillship struck the cableway, sending two cable cars plunging into the sea.


The bodies were located and retrieved by naval divers, said Mr Shaik, while he and his diving partner were involved in the salvage operations for the two cable cars.


"It was an urgent job, because they needed it for investigations," said Mr Shaik. He recalled that he was surprised to find the two brightly coloured cable cars in good condition underwater.


Mr Shaik and his partner had to secure them to an above-ground crane, which then hauled them up.


He said he was not bothered then by the fact that he was at the scene of a tragedy. "I was young and macho then, so I didn't think about ghosts," he said in jest.


Away from the sea, Mr Shaik has another passion - volunteering.


The married father of four has been a volunteer probation officer since the 1980s, and his responsibilities in the role include making sure that probationers are home after their curfew.


"I enjoy it, we help make sure that they come back to society," said Mr Shaik.


The active grassroots volunteer has also been a Silver Generation Ambassador since last year, reaching out to his fellow senior citizens to explain government-related policies to them.


He was roped into most of these roles by friends who saw him as an affable character, said Mr Shaik.


"I think they see that this fella can talk, so they say okay let's 'jio' him," he said, using the Hokkien-derived term for "inviting".


These days, Mr Shaik is keeping busy by chatting with customers at the Singapore Cruise Centre.


Mr Shaik said he took the job of a customer service officer after retiring from diving about 15 years ago. He could not carry on as a diver, as age was catching up with him.


But, at the end of the day, it seems as if nothing much has changed for him. "I still work by the sea, I still see the ships, the waves... I can still feel the sea breeze," Mr Shaik said.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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