Drawn to the sea and the life of a marine engineer

Chief engineer Eric White (right) in the engine control room of the LNG-powered Janet Marie.

Chief engineer Eric White (right) in the engine control room of the LNG-powered Janet Marie.
It was his uncle and the work of writer Jack Kerouac, the guru of the ‘50s ‘Beat Generation,’ who got a young Eric White thinking about going to sea in the first place. 

“My uncle went to Mass Maritime and sailed as well,” he recalls. “I didn’t grow up doing much of anything maritime, but he used to have a lot of time to spare when he wasn’t at sea. I grew up in the Boston area and we’d go to baseball games at Fenway Park to see the Red Sox in his off time.” 

In high school, White was fascinated by the work of writer Jack Kerouac. 

“He was a merchant mariner, so I got a little bit into that because of him and the adventure of it…actually signing on a ship at the Union Hall and going to sea,” says White. “But I really wasn’t sure if my interest in going to sea would develop.” 

And develop it did. A stint at his uncles’ alma mater – the Massachusetts Maritime Academy – and his first training cruise at age 18 put to rest any questions he had about a life at sea and led him to pursue a career as a marine engineer. 

“I enjoyed standing the deck watches but I just seemed to click more with the engineering crew,” he says. “I just found it much more interesting to pursue on a full time basis. As much as the navigation part seemed cool like going in and out of port, the middle of the ocean stuff was very boring to me.”

White and his adolescent friends weren’t what he calls “super mechanically inclined,” but they had some interest in small engines and how they work. “So, the right skill set seems to have translated that way.”  

It was a decision that led him to his current position as chief engineer aboard Pasha Maritime’s Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)-powered containership Janet Marie.

Built for Pasha Maritime’s route linking California and Hawaii, the 774-foot ship was delivered by its builder, Texas-based Am FELS, in July 2023 and arrived at Long Beach, its first port-of-call, a few weeks later. 

A call at the Port of Oakland followed before the ship departed the Bay Area on the maiden voyage to its homeport of Honolulu. 

 The 774-foot Janet Marie.
The 774-foot Janet Marie.

Janet Marie, the second in Pasha Maritime’s Ohama Class of vessels, was built at the AmFELS yard following delivery of the M/V George III, which began service on August 17, 2022. The ship was the first LNG container ship to refuel on the West Coast during its initial call to the Port of Long Beach.

Propulsion on both 2,500-TEU ships comes from a single MAN B&W engine fueled by marine diesel, low-sulfur heavy fuel oil and LNG that delivers 30,000 kW, or just more than 40,000 hp., and a trio of dual-fuel, 2,760 kW MAN auxiliary engines. When in port, generators operate on LNG, which runs cleaner than conventional diesel fuel and produces net zero sulphur (SOx)emissions. 

Both Ohana Class ships run almost entirely on LNG fuel with short, low-speed intervals when the engines operate on marine diesel. They can cut through the water at 23 knots on the 96-hour run from Long Beach to Honolulu. 

“These new ships are excellent,” says White. “I was lucky enough to be in Brownsville on the new ships to see the second-half of the commissioning process on the George III and the full build of the Janet.” 

Seeing the Janet Marie literally come together with two massive sections pieced together “from just a collection of steel to a fully functioning ship was an incredible  experience,” he says, adding that two of his Massachusetts Maritime classmates helped commission George III. “I hadn’t seen them since we graduated from the Academy. It was great to renew the friendships.”

White readily admits that “working with LNG was definitely new to me. I had no experience with it, but it reminded me a lot of the steam plant I learned on and many of the same things such as tech pressure and temperature changes translated easily from one technology to the other.”

“It presented a whole new array of equipment and a whole new collection of standards, but it’s all worked out,” says White, alluding to the IGF Code – a comprehensive and highly-detailed regulatory framework to facilitate the safe use of LNG as a marine fuel – which was put in place last year by the International Maritime Organization. 

“We’ve had to learn an entirely new set of rules on how to do everything and we’ve worked very closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to comply,” he says. “The IGF rules establish very strict safety standards and cover every part of LNG vessel operations from how the gas plant is maintained to what codes and specifications the ship is built. They’re very exact.” 

The biggest challenge that White faced wasn’t accumulating the incredible amount of knowledge and experience needed to harness one of the most demanding jobs afloat – that of a marine engineer overseeing the highly complex and interconnected systems that comprise an ocean-going vessel’s propulsion plant.

It’s something more basic, he says. “It’s getting used to the life. You miss weddings, funerals, and family gatherings sometimes, but you also have big chunks of time off to manage your life and that’s one of the pluses,” adding that he spends much of his time ashore at his Colorado home.

 Eric White (center) with Janet Marie’s engineers and deck officers gather on the ship’s starboard bridge wing.
Eric White (center) with Janet Marie’s engineers and deck officers gather on the ship’s starboard bridge wing.

A ship, says White, “is a floating community. It’s like a town. Everybody has to get along or it will be chaos,” says White. 

“You have to be able to get along with people that you don’t see eye-to-eye with about life or management style. You’re in the middle of the ocean, so you have to adapt your personality to get along with everyone. You have to be willing to work to get along.”

Everybody, he says, “is different. That’s what makes it all so interesting” – a life lesson picked up from years at sea for several companies including Maersk, OSG, Moore McCormack, Keystone, and Horizon prior to coming on board with Pasha Maritime. 

That alone, he says, “was a great learning experience. When I was coming up, I had a chief engineer who was like a lot of guys. He yelled and screamed a lot and it was tough to be in the same room with him. Just getting through those times was maybe harder than if I had a regular job. It could be a lot of long hours. But it’s worked for me.”

“Of all the companies I’ve worked for, Pasha’s definitely the best,” says White. “It’s family-owned and everyone at the top knows everyone’s name down to the lowest guy in the company. It really is amazing.”

Pasha Maritime is a component of  The Pasha Group, a highly diversified global transportation services and logistics firm, founded in 1947 by George Pasha, grandfather of its current President and CEO, George Pasha IV. 

The Honolulu-headquartered company “is very close and, while there’s a corporate structure, they sure don’t run it like that.”

Everyone “gets along well and the leadership team is great to work with,” says White. 

“They were excellent when we built the George II and Janet Marie and they were always available to have a conversation and discuss anything and everything. 

There were, he says, “no bad questions. They treat the people they hire to work ashore and afloat like professionals and they do a very good job of keeping their people happy. Everyone is treated very well and that’s really appreciated. That makes a lot of difference.”