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The seafarer who has seen it all Print E-mail
Saturday, 09 October 2010 00:00

Tan Sri Halim Mohammad, 59, is known sometimes as “the man who owns a lot of yachts”. More accurately, he is the executive chairman of Halim Mazmin Berhad, Malaysia’s leading shipping empire.

Forty years he has spent dealing with the tempestuous sea, but instead of looking like a roughed-up sailor you could say “Ahoy, mate!” to, Halim is a picture of fatherly grace. Dressed in a khaki-grey blazer and blue shirt, this soft-spoken man doesn’t seem like a seasoned seaman.

In his room is a framed picture of his first voyage aboard a Malaysian International Shipping Corporation (MISC) vessel; in his hand, a battered copy of the first magazine published by MISC. Then, he was only 19.

“I had stumbled upon a vacancy at MISC. They were advertising for young school leavers to join the merchant navy. Not many had the opportunity for rigorous on-board training — I had to work as a crew member first before becoming an officer. It was all hands-on, scrubbing decks,” he reminisces.

Not knowing what to expect, the young Halim was taken in by the promise of an exciting journey at sea.

Luxury yacht Lili Marleen has played host to numerous VIP guests, including (from left) Ambassador of China to Malaysia, Chai Xi, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen and China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) chairman, Minister Shao Qiwei. Tan Sri Halim Mohammad, here with wife Puan Sri Mazmin Noordin, owns Lili Marleen.

“It was very challenging. I was seasick and homesick. Once, I was even caught in a tropical revolving storm in Madagascar. We were in the Indian Ocean, bound for Europe. If not for the skills of the captain, I wouldn’t be here today. He was very good at navigating and handling the ship. It was the scariest moment of my life,” Halim recalls.

“The ship was not modern; there was no weather-plotting. Navigation was through the sun and stars. Communication was through Morse code. I had to stand watch. There was no cooking for four days. The sea was boisterous. Visibility was near zero — we couldn’t even see 10ft (3m) ahead. I was scared, but it was also a fantastic learning experience.”

Growing up by the seafront of Kuala Terengganu, Halim had always been one for the great outdoors.

“In the early days, I was a very keen scouter. I did a lot of camping, rafting, kayaking. I also enjoyed swimming and fishing,” he remembers.

Discipline was an important part of the household. Halim’s mother had to work hard as a single parent to support the family.

“She had to sell cakes and nasi lemak to support me and my two elder sisters. She was a very determined and strong woman, having the perseverance and courage to face the odds,” says Halim.

Luxury yacht Lili Marleen.

After completing his GCE ‘O’ Levels, Halim took to the sea.

“The ship was my floating university. I call it the school of hard knocks. I earned RM80 a month, and still I had to send RM40 home. My mum was my sole motivator — she taught me that without discipline, there would be no success.”

Whirlwind success

Halim met his wife, Puan Sri Mazmin Noordin, when he came ashore in 1975.

“I was working at Harrison & Crossfield as a shipping executive and she was working for a rival company,” he says.

Both shared a passion for seafaring and before long, they had made plans to venture out on their own.

In the beginning, their office entailed only a desk and chair. Thirty years later, Halim Mazmin Berhad is recognised as one of the largest and most successful private sector-owned public-listed shipping companies in the country.

The Puteri Mahsuri is an exact replica of Kanrin Maru.

Not having a degree to his name, and without a conferred title, Halim once went by the name Halim Mohammad T.B.S.S. It looked impressive but nobody knew what the four letters stood for.

“People were too shy to ask what it was. It’s actually Tengku Bariah Secondary School,” he reveals with a laugh.

Attributing his success to sheer hard work and integrity, Halim says, “My biggest achievement is being able to marshall all the businesses that I have within the group. My wife, she is the actual captain of the ‘ship’. We brought up the company together, and she has been hands-on until today. Our motto is ‘24/7 since 1951’,” says Halim.

All three of Halim’s children currently manage separate divisions within the company.

“All my children work for me. I sent them to university, so they are on my scholarship. They are bonded for life. No silver spoon was handed to them. They started from the bottom up, setting good examples. They are treated equal to other staff,” he says.

Halim yearns to share his experiences on a bigger stage.

“We are surrounded by the sea but Malaysians are always running away from it. I’ve always wanted to help make Malaysia a truly maritime nation,” he remarks.

A man of his words, Halim founded Wilderness Malaysia in 2002.

“It’s the first outdoor school in Malaysia, bringing all races together irrespective of gender. We take the students out of their comfort zone — nobody gets bored. We teach them how to respect each other and live together,” he says.

Tan Sri Halim Mohammad with a framed picture of his first voyage aboard a Malaysian International Shipping Corporation (MISC) vessel.

Guided by globally trained professionals, the youngsters in the school are given the chance to participate in exciting outdoor programmes ranging from sea kayaking, jungle trekking and expeditions to sailing, tall ship training and abseiling.

“One of my greatest sense of achievements is being able to share my knowledge and skills; exposing students to the maritime possibilities,” says Halim. “(The school) is so successful that even Singaporeans have asked to join us.”

He cites Wilderness Malaysia as his biggest contribution in terms of corporate social responsibility. To date, he has helped to touch the lives of 60,000 young students.

Ocean of dreams

While the ultimate dream machine for some may be a luxury car, Halim’s taste is a little more extravagant. In 2005, he forked out RM33mil to acquire Lili Marleen, a 249-foot (76m) German luxury yacht.

“It’s a tall ship. When I saw it, I just fell in love with it. I like everything about it, especially the name — Lili Marleen was a song by Marlene Dietrich,” says the proud owner. Originally, Lili Marleen was a German love song made popular during World War II. The name carries some charms of its own.

“When we were bringing Lili Marleen back from Germany, we ran into Somali pirates. We gave out a distress call and because of the ship’s German name, the German and Norwegian coast guards answered and came to our aid,” recalls Halim.

As fate would have it, the tall ship miraculously evaded another potential disaster during the journey back to Malaysia — the tsunami of 2004. They had encountered problems with the vessel, and so Halim and his crew made an emergency stop at Sri Lanka.

“We were on the other side when the tsunami hit. I guess that’s why we kept the name — for luck,” he says.

With “six-star” finishings and facilities, the tall ship can cater to 50 guests and is often chartered out for social and private events. Halim, of course, has bigger dreams for his prized possession.

“I want Lili Marleen to be the floating hotel of Langkawi,” he says.

Incidentally, the launch of the IWC Portuguese Yacht Club chronograph watch series will be held on Lili Marleen at the end of the month.

“I’m very excited that IWC, an exquisite, high-end watch, has chosen to launch its new series on Lili Marleen. It’s very appropriate and I’m looking forward to hosting the guests on another short but enjoyable cruise,” says Halim.

Apart from Lili Marleen, Halim is also the proud owner of the majestic tall ship Puteri Mahsuri. Steeped in historical value, the Puteri Mahsuri is an exact replica of the Kanrin Maru, a ship that transported the Ambassador of Japan on its maiden voyage to the US in 1860.

“It was renamed by Tun Dr Mahathir. Of course, Japan’s maritime people gave me lots of obstacles when I tried to acquire it,” he reveals.

Since Halim has spent a sizeable chunk of his life at sea, you would think that he would be tired of it all by now. Yet the seafarer is a creature of habit — he’s watched Crimson Tide, his favourite movie, more than 50 times.

“I don’t think I have much free time these days. But if given a chance, I would like to sail the Pacific seas — the south of Java into Papua New Guinea and visit all the small islands. There’s no need to go to the Antarctic. We haven’t yet explored our own seas,” Halim says.

“The sea is your friend. It gives me great solace and comfort. Every other week I’d be at sea, and every day is a new challenge. The sea is not static; it changes moods. If I had a second chance, I would do it all over again.”

Indeed, the man has fallen hook, line and sinker for the allure of the sea.

The latest IWC Portuguese Yacht Club chronograph watch series will be launched on Oct 22 aboard Lili Marleen.

Source: http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2010/10/9/lifefocus/7090471&sec=lifefocus



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