Thursday, February 18, 2016

Faithful to Mama Mary

By Alberto B. Ballares

I was born to a poor family in Bohol, the eldest of two brothers and a sister. My father is a farmer and our mother is the most dutiful housewife I know. Early on in life we were already trained to do household chores. We are a religious family. We celebrate fiestas even we if have to walk for about six kilometers, just to attend the mass. Such was the simple and happy life we had despite our economic condition.

I was second year high school then, when, one night while in bed, I had a vision of Mama Mary. Her crown’s rays of light were so bright for me to be able to see her beautiful image.  From that day on Mama Mary became part of my daily life and I would always pray to her. 

I was already 22 years of age when I finished my high school studies. Then, in exchange for working for the children of a former employer, I was given the opportunity to study in college.  I travelled to Manila and enrolled at the Philippine Maritime Institute graduating at the age of 26. I approached some heads of government departments to ask for recommendations to local shipping lines. 

On January 31, 1978 I was accepted at Sweetlines Inc., at their Cebu office.  I was assigned on board MV Sweet Loves as apprentice engineer. One Sunday, while our ship was put on repair for three months in Mandaue, Cebu, the personnel manager came on board.  He was looking for available engine staff to serve as temporary oiler of the new cargo ship that just arrived from Japan.   At that time, I was just on board resting since I did not have money to go around.  I volunteered and luckily got accepted.  Due to my diligence and good performance, I became a regular employee of the company. 

At the age of 28, I took my fourth engineer examination and passed thru God’s grace.  But my big break happened when I went home due to a tooth problem. The lady dentist inquired about my work and offered to help me get on board a foreign vessel. She gave me a good recommendation addressed to her friends for a manning company in Manila. In more than two weeks, after preparing all the necessary documents, I saw my name in the company’s bulletin board with my vessel assignment. I signed my first contract for a German ship, with the position of motorman and my salary in dollars. 

I visited Luneta Park, thinking of my good fortune.   I could not help control the tears which flowed from my eyes. I thanked Mama Mary for her unending help to me. On March 7, 1980 I joined my first foreign vessel. I learned from this experience that if you keep doing well you will definitely reap good fruits.  I also learned not to expect anything but instead pray and thank Mama Mary for all her blessings. 

Aboard my first foreign vessel, I realized the importance of communication skills since most of our officers were German nationals. They were also very strict in all aspects of work.  It so happened that my first engineer was with the German army during World War II so he was very disciplined. 

My second assignment was in a big super tanker owned by an American company that plies the Atlantic Ocean.  The salary was good which was commensurate with the challenge and danger of the work. One time the main engine was put on emergency stop in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It took time for the foreign engineers to diagnose and find the trouble, so I suggested a practical solution to our Japanese Chief Engineer.  My recommendation was implemented and the engine started immediately.   Unfortunately, however, our Chief Engineer did not acknowledge what I have done.

My third foreign vessel was a tanker with friendly British officers. It contained very risky cargo so the salary was quite high. The voyage was along the Atlantic Ocean.  One time, we encountered a problem.  The steering block slipped out and fell down so the engine stopped in the middle of the ocean. During lunchtime, I had an idea about how to solve the problem so I quickly finished my lunch and proceeded to the engine room.  Before the engine staff came back, the problem had already been remedied. The Chief Engineer praised me for the good job. I thanked God and Mama Mary for always guiding me.

In my seventh vessel, I was promoted to third engineer.  On board, I was the only bachelor and my co-workers encouraged me to settle down. I wrote to one of our neighbors now living in Mindanao and asked for the hand of any of his daughters. One of his daughters wrote back and we started communicating through letters. We got married when we felt it was time for us to settle down. Following the suggestion of my father-in-law we just had a simple wedding. 

When I was second engineer, my chief engineer was British.  One time while we were at the port of Saudi Arabia he asked me to run the two auxiliary engines so the vessel would be ready in two hours for departure. I started the engine but it did not start because the drive gear fell into the gear box.  That created a very big problem since it would take another 10 hours in order to disengage the gear box. Helpless in my predicament, I uttered Mama Mary’s name for help.  Then I tried using a small steel wire and had it lowered deeper into the hole of the gear box. With my eyes closed in prayer, the end of the wire came into contact with the drive gear. In just 30 minutes the problem was solved. I was not able to contain my emotion and I cried and again gave thanks to Mama Mary for all her miracles and wonders. 

With the extra money that we saved, my wife and I bought a property close to Cagayan de Oro City. It was our first property after our marriage. We rented an apartment near the house of my father- in –law.  On the fourth year of our marriage we were blessed with a baby boy. 

On Nov. 11, 1993 we started building our own house. My company had called informing me that I was promoted to Chief Engineer and was advised to report for immediate deployment. I spent a total of eight months on board. When I came back for vacation, we had our very own comfortable home. We also got a car that we would use for sight-seeing.  In 1997, my second son was born and in 2000 my wife gave birth to a baby girl which made us all very happy. In 2001, we were blessed with another boy, my fourth child, and our home became even livelier with an additional member of the family.  

By 2008, most of my children have grown up and studying. My eldest son had graduated from high school. We bought a lot in a good subdivision located on top of a hill and surrounded by mountains and lots of fresh air. Then we built a two-story house that is more comfortable for our kids.  Our home is also close to the church where we always attend mass every Sunday. 

Most of my memorable experiences at work were through the help and assistance of Mama Mary.  One instance happened at the port of Houston, Texas, in 1998 at 6AM.  For some unknown reason, I checked on a tank of the main engine room.  It was not part of my task as a Chief Engineer but I did just the same, and to my surprise, the tank was full of water.  I immediately called all my engine staff to check the possible reason for the problem. I spoke with the captain and called the attention of the technical manager. I proceeded to the engine room and drained all the water out of the sump tank. I assigned my men to clean and check the coolers. I was able to retrieve 1500 liters of lube oil then purified it and mixed it with 3000 liters of fresh lube oil.  The vessel was then scheduled for departure at 1700 hrs and luckily we were able to have the engine ready an hour before departure. 

Another happened one afternoon in 2002.   While we were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the second engineer told me that the main engine had stopped. I immediately investigated the problem and found that the feed oil pump had tripped off. I ordered the men to dismantle the pump and found that the bearing was damaged. Unfortunately I was told that the required spare bearing was out of stock. I went to my cabin to think about how to deal with the problem. I could only cry for Mama Mary’s help since we were in a precarious situation. By chance, however, I opened my drawer and found a bearing. The size happened to be exactly the same size as the damaged one, so the main engine resumed its normal operation.  

 Again, in 2004,  while passing along the Malacca Strait, two pirates armed with guns climbed on board our vessel. Luckily we were on the alert at that time. Everybody assembled on the monkey island (on top of the ship) and the captain on the bridge activated the emergency alarm. The pirates saw what we were ready for them and they did not pursue their bad intention. In such situations I could only pray and ask the good Lord for help and for Mama Mary’s mercy.  

In 2009 while channeling in California, our main engine experienced trouble and it stopped in the middle of the traffic separation.  Not long after, the US Coast Guard came aboard our vessel to verify the situation.  I became too preoccupied but never forgot to say my prayers and again asked the guidance of Mama Mary. Having been guided to do the right thing, the main engine went back to its normal operation. I then invited the US Coast Guard to join us for our dinner.  I also spoke to the cook to prepare a sumptuous dinner.  Satisfied with the nice food and my explanation, he gave us no deficiency. (Officials usually dread the visit of the Coast Guard for inspection since it would determine whether one can be allowed to stay and leave the port peacefully.)  

In June of 2014, while passing in Capetown, South Africa the weather was very bad. Moreover, one of the engine units of the main engine was in critical condition due to scavenge fire. I made a quick investigation and ordered a cleaning.  When the weather improved, proper maintenance and overhauling of the affected unit were successfully carried out. When all the necessary job was completed, we resumed the final voyage and luckily no problem recurred. Again, I only have Mama Mary to thank for our safe voyage.  Despite weather disturbances we were always protected from danger. 

Now that I am already at the peak of my career, I continue to be busy doing my best to realize my plans and fulfill my other dreams. Prayer is a part of my life so every day I would always ask for the continued blessings of the Almighty through Jesus and Mama Mary.  In particular I pray that my four obedient and God-fearing children be blessed and successfully finish their studies.

Alberto B. Ballares, seafarer, Chief-Engineer. Alberto claims that the Blessed Virgin Mother appeared to him. Since the apparition, he has been a firm believer of the Blessed Mother’s wonders and miracles. Whenever he encounters problems, Engr. Ballares would just invoke Mama Mary's name and support and assistance comes his way.  Now at the peak of his career, he hopes that his kids would finish their studies with the guidance of the Blessed Mother.

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