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18 May 2022
5 mins
International Day for Women in Maritime: A chat with Jing Hong and Hwee Shan

In 2021, IMO designated International Day for Women in Maritime on 18 May every year to appreciate females in the maritime industry and to promote the recruitment, retention and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector, raise the profile of women in maritime as well as to support work to address the current gender imbalance in maritime.

Interview with Female Seafarers

Seafarers, the key workers of maritime workforce, play a significant role in driving the continuity and ensuring the success of the global supply chain.

Marking the first International Day for Women in Maritime, SeaVoices took the opportunity to interview two female SMOU seafaring members – 4th Engineer Jing Hong and Deck Cadet Hwee Shan – to understand their motivations, challenges and joy that comes along with their career as a female in the maritime industry.

Character, not gender, that matters, says Engineer Jing Hong

After sailing for about two years,4th Engineer Jing Hong who is currently working with BP Maritime Services shared that for most of her voyages, she has at least another female seafarer sailing with her.

Graduating from Singapore Maritime Academy in 2018, Jing Hong chose the maritime career because an office-based job did not appeal to her “at all”.

Her interest to sail was piqued in secondary school when the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore staged a career fair in her school. “That was the first time I knew that the job of a marine engineer existed. I liked the fact that it is a hands-on skilled job; not blue-collar, and the most attractive part of the deal is I get the chance to travel while I work.”

And travel she did, fulfilling eight contracts so far.

Working with Ratings onboard ship

One of the first thing that she noticed in her voyage were that the technologies used onboard were much more advance than what she had seen in her textbooks and that she in fact had much more to learn onboard. Jing Hong also shared that she was one of the few who continued to embark on the path as a sailor after graduating.

To her, it is not the gender that enhances the work environment but the character of the seafarer. “When someone who is positive and brings joy and laughter to the crew signs off, as a team we can feel the difference.”

While she admitted that the female seafarers may be less direct and expressive in conversations as compared to their male counterparts, she feels that everyone regardless, gets equal respect and everyone onboard are always willing to help one another with tasks. The caring culture onboard is evident when the male marine engineers chip in for the more strenuous work.

“It is like a family on board. When we have struggles, we try to reach out and talk to someone about it. We also make it a point to constantly motivate each other,” Jing Hong said.

Despite the various cultural differences and background, she finds more similarities than differences among her peers. “Did you know that Polish eat dumplings, like our dumplings, for Christmas?” Onboard her ship, she is usually the only female officer but she shared that there are actually other female seafarers in the maritime industry and that she is not alone in this journey.

Jing Hong remarked, “When we are sailing, we do not go on land for a long period. Hence, before the pandemic, we all look forward to shore leave. However, the pandemic has put a halt to that. Now that the situation is getting better, companies are slowly allowing us to go on shore. We understand each country and company have their protocol to stay safe. I am sure that soon, shore leave will once again be made available.”

Deck Cadet Hwee Shan fulfills childhood dream

Currently pursuing her sea career as a certified deck officer, Hwee Shan with CMA Ships Singapore Pte Ltd, is naturally drawn to the ocean and since young, had always wanted to be a seafarer.

“My parents were not for it,” the outdoor enthusiast said. So she settled for the next best thing — settled for the next best thing- working in the outdoor education industry such as Outward Bound Singapore, PA Water-Venture and coaching kayaking.

Just when she thought her aspiration to sail was not ever going to be fulfilled, Wavelink Maritime Institute beckoned with an irresistible opportunity of the Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) programme to make her dream come true.

On board ship in Brisbane

In her 12 months at sea, Hwee Shan does not feel any less competent nor stereotyped by her gender. She said,

“In fact I find the male dominated crew respectful and very willing to teach. Maybe because I am a cadet who is open-minded and eager to learn.”

“Fellow crew members remarked that the male seafarers are more presentable when I am around. A few of them also pointed out that female seafarers are more detailed.”

At Suez Canal

Back home, Hwee Shan’s unique stories of adventures are well sought after by her friends. “They keep saying, wah, I am so adventurous but they have no clue what I do. So I simply explained to them that all the physical and online shopping they make, well, the ships transport them. They are always curious to know how we navigate the vessels and what goes on onboard.”

To all the ladies who aspire to be seafarers, Hwee Shan has this to say, “Don’t be afraid to take the first step. I am glad that I had the chance to take up the challenge and fulfill my childhood wish to be a seafarer.”

While seafaring may still be a male-dominated job, for Jing Hong and Hwee Shan, it is a career that brings them much joy and fulfilment, and an experience unique to a maritime job that cannot be found elsewhere.