Money. Love & Life Boat Drills on the High Seas…

This was one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had. For most of the 90’s I lived overseas working in various Casinos, from Moscow, to NZ to Malaysia & in between. I worked in what we used to call the Dodgy Brothers Casinos.

I worked on 5 different ships, some cruise ships & some the full on gambling ships. This was my favourite ship & it was called ‘The Empress’. I know right! Our head office was in KL (this is when my love affair with Malaysia started). An Australian crew ran the on board casino on the ship & we had a blast for the better part of a year until one night in October 1994.

I was on duty that night & I remember we had a high stakes punter from Borneo on board & he was a mad Roulette player. Things had settled in & the game was going well so I went into the office to do some work. I had not long sat down at the computer when there was an almighty BANG! It was like the toll of a giant bell & it reverberated through the entire ship. I was then thrown from my chair into the floor thinking ‘WTF just happened’?

Then the screaming & panic started. I got up off the floor & ran out to the gaming floor & it was total chaos. People were running everywhere, the staff were freaking out & nobody knew what had happened. I told my Pit Bosses to lock all the chips away & to send the Dealers to their cabins to get their life jackets & make their way to the lifeboats on deck. By the time I had secured the tables my boss was there & a couple of crew as well. They told me we had been hit by a massive oil tanker & the bow was damaged but they couldn’t see the extent of the damage & we had to get ready to abandon ship. 😳😳😳

This was when I started to panic a little. I ran to the staff cabins & they were empty which was good. Passengers were running through the hallways screeching & trying to steal life jackets off each other. Mothers were clutching their children trying to get upstairs to the deck where the life boats were, old people were crying, it was mental. I keep shouting at them to go to the deck where they did the life boat drill. All this was going on as well as the alarm system of the ship blaring, as well as officers shouting over the intercom. Once they had cleared the halls I figured I had better get up there too in case the ship was going down.

When I got to my life boat station on the deck I realised my boyfriend wasn’t there. Huh? So I ran back down to our cabin. When I threw open the door I found him running around the cabin stuffing US$100 notes down his red jocks & putting all his gold jewellery on. OMG! We started screaming at each other at the same time. I was saying forget about the money & he was saying quickly get all the money. I was furious! For all I knew we could have been sinking & he’s running around with his undies full of cash. I remember screaming ‘put some f… clothes on, the ships going down’.

A senoir Officer then came into the cabin & ordered us out. I remember looking back at him as I was running out the door & saying to him ‘come with us quickly’ & he said ‘no I have to stay here to make sure everyone is out before I can come up to the deck’. I can still see his face, a gentle Phillipino man that was so brave & proud to do his job. The boyfriend threw some clothes on & we quickly made out way up to the life boat station.

It was a very warm & humid night & I clearly recall feeling that warm breeze on my face when I was standing at the life boat station. I looked out to the horizon & seen the lights of a big ship & clearly remember thinking to myself ‘that’s where I’ll swim to if I have to’. I held my life jacket close to me & lamented on losing my favourite pair of stilettos if I did have to jump into the water. We stood on deck for a while & finally the Captian told us to stand down, that the ship was damaged but wasn’t taking on water & that we could return to our cabins. It was a relief but I don’t think anyone slept that night.

We limped back to the Sembawang ship yard in Singapore, finally arriving there late that afternoon. The ship had been hit by a massive oil tanker but I never heard any more about it. Everyone had to get off the ship & we were put up in a hotel in Singapore & the Malaysian staff were sent home while they assessed the damage. We ended up staying there for a week while repairs were made to the ships bow & our boss flew down from KL to meet with all concerned. At the end of that week we met with the boss & the staff were recalled to meet us at Port Klang to board the ship. Less than half of them turned up & we had just a handful of passengers booked for that cruise. We didn’t sail that night as there was no point.

The next day we met at the head office where we were told that the operation was folding. We were out of a job, we would have a hotel room for a couple of nights then we we were on our own. I remember going back to the ship to pack our things feeling terribly sad & crying in the cabin.
We ended up going to Penang for a couple of weeks holiday before we looked for another job. It took us a while to recover from that experience & we only worked on one more ship after that as we just couldn’t handle it. Too much fear. So that event changed our path changed dramatically but that’s another story for another day…

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