Andreas Riyanto Mulyo is the Captain and team leader of the Fugro Equator vessel, one of the vessels currently involved in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
From Kampung to Captain: The Journey Of Andreas
As a small boy growing up in a landlocked Kampung in East Java, Andreas Riyanto Mulyo had never seen a ship. His family was, like most Indonesian village families, not remotely wealthy, and so his eldest brother left home as soon as possible to find work. He became a seaman and when he returned home from his first long-haul trip, laden with European-style clothes and tales of the exotic places he had seen, young Andreas was caught.
Andreas has come a long way from that East Javanese village. He is the Captain of the Fugro Equator, the 66-metre research and survey ship heading the search for the missing MH370 plane in the southern Indian Ocean.
Having graduated from maritime college along his equally enthusiastic younger brother, supported by that same seafaring sibling who had inspired his love of an unseen ocean in the first place, Andreas has travelled the world.
Now, sitting in his small cabin onboard his beloved Fugro Equator, Andreas almost scoffs at the term ‘Captain’, although to take command of a vessel like this, it is definitely a rank one earns.
“They call me ‘Sir’ but I say ‘I am not Sir’. Captain doesn’t mean anything.
We are a team.”
That team is made up of fifteen men, who all see an enormous responsibility in what they do at any time, but none more so than now, in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, which disappeared on 8 March 2014 on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Most jobs conducted by Fugro’s fleet – including the Fugro Discovery, searching alongside the Equator – are related to gas, oil and environmental surveying. This one however is different.
Andreas says: “When I heard the Equator was involved in searching for the MH370 I was onboard the Fugro Supporter with colleagues. I said, ‘Oh my God, I want to be involved too.”
“Once in a while in life we get a chance to do good things, so God answered me in September 2014.”
He has been onboard since then. It takes six days for the Equator to get to the search zone from Fremantle in Western Australia, the nearest port, an incredible one thousand nautical miles away. The Equator is equipped with seabed and sub-seabed digital mapping systems, the most integral of these to the search being the Deep Tow. This is a multi-million dollar bathymetric surveyor on the end of a 7,000 metre cable, towed behind the ship along the seabed, up to 5,000 metres below.
It is a complex piece of equipment, which is difficult to deploy and retrieve at any time, let alone in the treacherous conditions currently faced by the Equator crew. Andreas’ priority is keeping the ship on course to the incredibly specific linear maps of the 200,000 square kilometre search area, while the Deep Tow does its work.
It’s no mean feat to keep this ship on a straight course. The Equator has faced waves of up to 17.6 metres high, and was stuck between a cyclone and a storm hailing from the Antarctic.
For Andreas, though? “You have to love to do this. And I love it.”
That’s fortunate, because time on board ship is often measured in months, not days.
The Equator is regular with six-week-long stints on board, but for most jobs, Andreas gets the call at short notice that he is needed on the other side of the world. To take on this life, he says there are two things you need – the approval of your family and love of the game.
He started his adventure as a cadet on small container ships, then as an officer for an Indonesian tanker company before becoming a Chief Mate on offshore and supply ships for a company based out of Singapore. He has been with Fugro since 2004, and was the first to captain the Equator on its maiden voyage to Malaysia on an oil and gas surveying job.
Sadly, as Andreas knows all too well, the ocean often claims those it calls its own. This has been the case with his younger brother.
So it’s easy to see why he has so much empathy for the families of those who were on board the missing MH370, and why he is so determined to be a part of the search.
“I want to be involved with this. I am not saying I will be the one who finds them, because I am not the expert… but day by day I pray that this vessel finds it.”
With a very passionate Captain – sorry, ‘just Andreas’ at the helm, there is no doubting the Fugro Equator will be straining every rivet to make that happen.
Because they are a team.