Li Chen, an Associate at the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation, expresses gratitude for starting his journey in the maritime industry as a seafarer, which has only taught him valuable life lessons. He underscores the importance of cultivating effective communication skills, advocating for active listening and understanding others in both personal and professional relationships. Li Chen also emphasises how quickly time passes, urging against procrastination and encouraging to take prompt action on the issues we care about.
cknowledging that maritime decarbonization requires concerted efforts from various stakeholders, Li Chen hopes that the GCMD framework can serve as motivation for enhance collaborative efforts. He concludes with an inspirational motto to emphasize the value of appreciating what we currently have in our life.
SAFETY4SEA: How did it come about that you joined shipping industry and your field of expertise specifically?
Li Chen: I grew up in Dalian, a coastal city in China; near my home, there was a park overlooking the Bohai Gulf where I frequently played. Oftentimes, I would look out into the ocean and wonder what lies within and beyond. Then, about 20 years ago, I moved to Singapore. At school I opted for subjects related to marine engineering and eventually majored in mechanical engineering in university. When time came for me to step into work life, I joined the maritime sector as a seafarer and began a life of adventure. One of the reasons I did so was because I wanted very much to go out to see the outside world. And it was during my seafaring stint that I picked up problem-solving skills and gained hands-on experience working with chief engineers and other crew members, overhauling engines and undertaking regular maintenance work of engine equipment so that the ship can sail continually. I learnt a lot – all this would not have been possible with any other job.
S4S: What about your current job/ role most excites you and why?
L.Ch.: I am an associate at the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD). In that capacity, my current focus is to support the assurance framework for drop-in green fuels project initiative led by Dr Prapisala Thepsithar, Director, Research & Projects. My role in the project involves studying alternative fuels, their characteristics, performance, and assessing their potential as alternative fuels with lower carbon intensities. This is a new chapter for me; I am picking up new knowledge daily, learning from my colleagues, growing together with GCMD, and contributing to a larger cause: the energy transition of the maritime sector.
I manage numerous project partners, working with lab service providers, fuel purchasers, engine OEMs, consultants, data analysts, operations specialists, and surveyors. I join the dots across the stakeholder chain and ensure the project proceeds smoothly. Shipping’s transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon fuels is part of the greater global energy transition, and requires collaboration among stakeholders across the value chain. There is no simple solution for shipping lines looking to decarbonise; society would influence which alternative fuels the sector deploys.
S4S: When you think of the word successful who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?
L.Ch.: Everyone has their own definition of success. To me, success could be a state of living in which one leads a simple life, enjoys good health, and is surrounded by a happy family and close friends. If you have more, spend more; if you have less, spend less. I believe there are many people who have achieved this.
S4S: Who is/ was the most influential person/mentor to you & why?
L.Ch.: Everyone whom I encountered in the past have mentored me in one way or another: teachers in school, colleagues in the office, etc. And at GCMD, my senior colleagues share their experiences and life journeys; these are nuggets of wisdom I have received, which I hope to apply in my life.
S4S: What is the best and what was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?
L.Ch.: “Don’t underestimate yourself.” This is one of the best pieces of advice given to me by a senior colleague. At the workplace, we encounter people from various backgrounds, each with his/her own unique strengths. Someone may excel in a task, there are always aspects that can be improved. The learning process is not easy, nor is it always smooth-sailing. So, never ever look down on yourself. You are capable of achieving more than you think.
The worst piece of advice I have ever received is, “Try this [an obvious vice that would have serious consequences]”.
S4S: What is the most worthwhile career investment (in energy, time, money) you’ve ever made?
L.Ch.: Joining the industry as a seafarer. The times I had spent working onboard container ships is the most memorable part of my life. As a first job, seafaring life gave me the opportunity to travel around the world and interact with and appreciate different peoples and cultures. This did not come without a cost. I joined in 2008, at a time when access to satellite communications facilities onboard vessels for personal use was limited. So you can imagine the many days that would pass without any communication with home.
Toiling out in the open seas made all the concepts and theories I studied in school come to life. I was astounded when I first boarded Kota Cahaya (“Light of City” or “光城号”), my first vessel, by its sheer size. Built in 1992, the Singapore-registered vessel was a container ship sailing on heavy fuel oil in the Singapore–Indonesia–Thailand trade route. After working and living with 20 others in close proximity for 7 months on my first assignment, I learnt to better appreciate the people I work with.
S4S: If you could give a piece of advice to your 18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be and why? What piece of advice should you ignore?
L.Ch.: Learn to communicate effectively, step out of your comfort zone. I believe socialising with people by applying good conversational skills is one of the most important techniques for anyone who wishes to succeed in life. Listen carefully and speak thoughtfully – this will help you to better understand the concerns of others. You will then be able to make more friends and widen your personal network.
I would ignore anyone who claims that life is long and there is still time. In reality, time flies. If there is a thing that you are keen to do, don’t wait, just do it.
S4S: What would you like to change in the current maritime landscape and your area of expertise specifically and why?
L.Ch.: Decarbonising the maritime sector requires joint effort from different stakeholders; there is no straightforward solution. I hope the GCMD framework and my life experience can inspire other young adults who are considering joining the maritime sector.
S4S: What is your personal motto?
L.Ch.: “知足常乐” (zhi zu chang le) – Happiness is not about getting all you want. It is about enjoying what you already have.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.