Tuesday, 17th October 2017

A South Shields Marine School student who put his career on hold to pay for medical care for his father has finally gained his dream qualification – proving he is an officer as well as a gentleman.

Murali Balakrishnan has passed exams at our world-leading marine school - six years after using £12,000 of savings, meant for course fees and living costs, to cover hospital expenses.

By gaining his Officer of the Watch qualification, Murali can now look forward to a well-paid life on the ocean waves with the Merchant Navy.

The 34-year-old, from Calicut, southern India, was helped by financial support from the Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fund, which operates at South Tyneside College, home to the marine school, and gives short-term help to students and linked good causes.

Its committee’s backing ensured he could cover accommodation fees and other costs throughout his course.

Murali has now returned to Calicut to seek work as an officer of the watch, a deck officer assigned with watchkeeping and navigation duties on a ship.

He said: “I had to look after my family and had no choice but to use my savings for my father’s care. My mother was also ill and I had to support her too. I wanted the best care and in India that costs money. It was the right thing to do, but I’m very happy to have finally passed my course at South Shields Marine School.

“It is the best Merchant Navy training school in world, it’s really well known and the course was great. My lecturers were extremely friendly and helpful.”

He added: “I’m very grateful to the Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fund, whose support made a huge different to my success.

“The money it provided paid for my accommodation and for my food – at one point, I was relying on friends to buy my meals. Thanks to the fund and the marine school, I’m in a great place to progress my career as an officer.”

Before pursuing his ambitions to become an officer, Murali worked as an able-bodied seaman.

Seamus Moran, lecturer in Nautical Studies and Officer of the Watch tutor at South Shields Marine School, said: “Murali has been a great student to teach and was very dedicated to his course. I simply couldn’t have asked for better.

“He’s also a lovely man and I can see that he is the type to put others first, as he proved with his family.

“The route by which he has become an officer is a tough one, but he never gave up on that dream and has achieved it. I’m very happy for him.”

Les Watson, who helped found the charitable fund last year, added: “We spoke to Murali and he showed dedication and commitment to his course – he was exactly the type of student we want to help.

“It may seem like quite a lot of money but it’s not when put in context with the difference it has made to his life.

“I’m delighted that he has now gained his officer qualification, and I wish him a very successful future.”

The Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fund is named after Dr Thomas Masterman Winterbottom, who was born in South Shields in 1766. His financial bequest led to the founding of a 19th Century marine school on which South Shields Marine School and South Tyneside College grew.

Domestically, the fund enables students to study and progress effectively, form their own businesses, or helps them through times of financial difficulties. It has also established links with organisations overseas to assist them, or individuals, when possible.

More information on the fund is available by emailing dwcf@stc.ac.uk or calling 0191 427 3717.