Feature: The Ship to Shore Career Transition

25th Feb 2022

At Northern Marine great emphasis is placed on developing our people and promoting from within. Our onshore ship management personnel have a vast wealth of seafaring experience with many having transferred directly from our Fleet of managed vessels to onshore roles.

For many, the professional transition from ship to shore can be both exhilarating and daunting and requires support, training, and patience from the Company.  Three Northern Marine employees: Niall Johnston, Superintendent, Nikolina Pahljina, Vetting Superintendent and Abhay Agarwal, Marine Resource Manager share their experiences about moving from the Northern Marine managed fleet to a career onshore.

Tell us about your career at sea

NIALL: I Joined NMM via Clyde Marine Training as an ETO cadet in 1999. I initially sailed on DP Shuttle Tankers, then VLCCs, before moving to fully refrigerated and semi refrigerated LPG vessels and then finally LNG vessels.

NIKOLINA: I started as an OS on a ferry in Croatia that was connecting my home island to shore. Later during my university time, after long searching for a cadetship, I managed to board a Northern Marine managed vessel as cadet and went onto sail on our vessels for several years in various fleets – crude oil, products, LNG and LPG.

ABHAY: My career at sea started in 2005 as an Engine cadet onboard one of Stena’s product tankers. I still visibly remember my first vessel boarding via a pilot ladder– how nervous and excited I was! Thanks to my seniors, I was immediately made to feel as part of the onboard team. Owing to the diverse fleet, I got an opportunity to sail on VLCC, MR product tankers before moving to LPG vessels experiencing fully refrigerated, semi-refrigerated LPG to Ethylene carriers.   

Above: Niall Johnston

Tell us about your role onshore

NIALL: I am involved with the daily running of the vessel.  Being a Superintendent covers a wide range of topics including safety, crewing, technical, budgetary to name but a few whilst ensuring that the vessel is well maintained and prepared for any inspections.  There is always a heavy focus on the safety and commercial performance of the vessel. 

Within my fleet group we consist of three superintendents working under the supervision of a fleet manager.  The position is supported by the marine superintendents, technical assistants, purchasing officers, SEQ, finance officers and the personnel department.  The fleet group act as the focal point for the owners as we are managing their asset.  Away from the day to day operation of the vessel, other internal company projects are undertaken as well as preparation and participation in external audits and inspections.  It is very rare that everything is quiet, and the workload is constantly high.  It is up to us, as superintendents, to ensure that the company’s and client’s expectations are fulfilled and that company policies are followed. 

NIKOLINA: I’m currently working as Vetting Superintendent and am part of the Clearance Team. My role is relatively complex and accompanies several aspects, but the main part of the work is around SIRE/CDI inspections, assisting in clearance of the vessels for future prospective charterers and I communicate with vessel owners on related matters on a frequent basis to fulfil their expectations.

ABHAY: As the Marine Resource Manager, my responsibilities include overseeing the end to end recruitment process for all Indian seafarers; mentoring of senior officers, and assisting with their training and competence development.

I’m accountable for the implementation and adherence to the global recruitment practices, managing the cadets, recruitment, and training teams in India and delivery and development of training courses.

The role involves working closely with colleagues across Northern Marine offices to ensure that our vessels are always manned by the most competent and talented people from across the globe and assist in delivering to our clients’ expectations.

Part of the role comprises of conducting safety induction briefings, assisting fleet groups with vessel attendance, and managing external and internal projects and clients.


Above: Nikolina Pahljina

Was an onshore role always an ambition?

NIALL: I always considered options for further Career development in the marine industry.

NIKOLINA: The vision I had for my future was to join the office team at some point, except it came a bit earlier than I expected. I’ve always wanted to work in the safety field and hope to progress into it in the near future.

ABHAY: While a seafaring role is very challenging and satisfying, there are many aspects of the maritime world that remain invisible to us. As a professional who wants to evolve, it was always a goal to learn more and challenge oneself on a regular basis. The best opportunity for this was a shore-based role to learn about various aspects of ship management and use the years of knowledge gained on ships to help impact the business, environment and sustainability.


Tell me how the opportunity to work ashore came about?

NIALL: After working at sea I went to work in HHI Ulsan, South Korea for 3 years and then Qidong, China for 2 years working as an E&I inspector with Tritec Marine (a Northern Marine subsidiary) for site teams working on projects such as the Dockwise Vanguard, LNG/Oil tankers and semi-submersible offshore accommodation platforms. Upon completion of working in Asia in 2015, I returned to the UK to work with NMM as a Superintendent for the Stena LNG vessels. 

NIKOLINA: My career at sea wasn’t quite progressing as desired, despite the plentiful support of Captains I worked with, and I thought it was time to move to something else. Although a new job at Faculty of Maritime Studies in Rijeka was waiting for me, I decided to send my CV to Northern Marine, just in case and for no regrets. Shortly after I was called for the general interview and was offered my first office role as Vetting Co-ordinator.

ABHAY: While crossing the Pacific Ocean in November 2019 awaiting my signoff, a mail landed in my inbox asking me if I would be interested in applying for a role in a NMM company. Being a company cadet and familiar with the values and vision of the organisation, it was a no brainer to throw my name in the hat. After a series of interviews and skill level tests by senior NMMI and NMMS management, I was offered the role of Marine Resource Manager.

Above: Abhay Agarwal

Can you tell us about the transition? (positives and challenges)

NIALL: Initially when you start the position it can seem very challenging due to the volume and nature of the work.   When you understand how the internal processes and external reporting requirements it makes the day to day operation of the vessels a lot easier. 

NIKOLINA: The biggest challenge I would say was fear for me – it was a new place to live with no family, no friends and also new role which I didn’t know much about in practice. I’ve moved to Glasgow without knowing anybody. Another challenge for me was also settling into office mode after time at sea. For me it was a hard transition as I still do sometimes crave to go back on board. The positive part of transition was warm welcome of the team and everyone trying to help with advice.

ABHAY: I would be lying if I said that it was an easy transition. The sheer knowledge to be grasped was both daunting and incredible. Familiarity with a majority of office teams ensured that I was always at ease in asking the most basic questions. I received an overwhelming amount of support from my supervisors and colleagues in learning the day to day responsibilities. The similarities between an organised vessel life and well-defined process on shore provided a cushion.

The biggest challenges, however, were adjusting to working in an office environment with a different pace and changing the mind set from a seasoned seafarer to overseeing a wide range of projects with a totally different approach to seeing and doing things.


How did the Company support you?

NIALL: The Company offers a wide range of both in house and external training opportunities such as coating application, safety and audit training, project management and even Japanese business etiquette courses and Microsoft training.  In house training sessions were also held regularly pre COVID which covered specific topics relative to the managed fleet at the time.  We have had visits to the NMM office from class societies, P&I Insurance as well as technical suppliers all giving talks relative to the industry.

NIKOLINA: The Company was sensitive about my transition and have assisted me to settle in as much as possible. I’ve received much advice on matters such as accommodation. They helped in the first couple of months until I found the flat that was suitable for me and have helped me with moving my belongings from Croatia to Glasgow. There was also big support from my line manager at that time in all aspects to adjust to the office life.

ABHAY: Thorough and detailed handover from my predecessor, mentoring sessions with Capt. Mahesh Garimella, face to face interactions with the senior management in Clydebank and a plethora of trainings prepared me for the new role. 


What skills do you utilise from your seafaring role?

NIALL: Resilience. Being a Superintendent there are many challenging obstacles. The skills and experiences I learned from working with the various ranks and nationalities onboard prepared me for relationship building with owners, suppliers, and colleagues, which is essential. 

NIKOLINA: In everyday work I always try to use all my knowledge and skills learned during University time and onboard period, no matter if it is work based or general use knowledge.

ABHAY: First and foremost, the leadership skills acquired on board have supported me in handling and delegating responsibilities, motivating my teams, listening to feedback; and developing a flexibility to solve problems in an ever-changing workplace. Experience of working with a multinational workforce honed my communication which is extremely useful in collaborating with my international colleagues on a daily basis. The lasting relationships built onboard is another key asset in connecting with colleagues on vessels. Lastly, the technical skills developed during sea-going experiences have contributed immensely in day-to-day deliverables.


What do you miss about being a seafarer?

NIALL: The earned leave periods were always welcome and the chance to go to places that most people had never heard off.

NIKOLINA: Travelling, having calm mornings, sunrises and sunsets in the middle of the oceans, the smell of the sea and learning about different cultures with day-to-day work with the crew.

ABHAY: I sometimes terribly miss the mesmerizing views from the ship, ocean and its uncertainties, long holidays, the camaraderie, opportunities to visit some of the most beautiful places on earth and certainly the ease of a boiler suit.


Why have you stayed with Northern Marine?

NIALL: Northern Marine are a reputable company operating to a high standard that I am happy to be part of.  The management of the company has always been with integrity and a high degree of professionalism. 

NIKOLINA: Northern Marine was the first company that offered me a cadetship after a long time trying. Having had a good experience with them during my sea career, I thought it would be a good idea to try and take a chance for the office role in the company for my further development.

ABHAY: Throughout my association with the organisation, it was clearly visible that the Group’s ethics and values are its core which resonated with my own personal beliefs. The company provided growth opportunities along with ample challenges through a varied fleet which built my resilience capacity. An empathetic and professional personnel team was always willing to listen and understand one’s issues and provide a speedy resolution. Most of all, it was the transparency between ship and shore, the organisation brand, and the mutual trust.


What advice would you give to your colleagues at sea who are interested in working ashore with Northern Marine?

NIALL: Please speak to you superintendent or fleet manager during your annual appraisals and apply for any positions that become available.  Northern Marine regularly advertise roles on the website and via other recruitment companies. 

NIKOLINA: If this is something that you would like to pursue, I would say to everyone to try. The Company always needs people who are experts in the field. Maybe the initial role won’t be what you hoped for, but it can always progress into something else and you might follow some new path in your life.

NMM has always been an organisation which has supported talent from within. There are exciting opportunities always around the corner and advertised on our websites with a great potential for intellectual growth, challenges, and the cultivation of leadership qualities.

My advice will be to keep on developing yourself as a professional and try to define a career path for yourself. 

To view current onshore roles at Northern Marine, visit https://www.nmg-stena.com/work-with-us/shore-based-vacancies/