WOMAN ON BOARD
Choosing the maritime profession, I assumed that it might not be easy. Even being a child, I liked to overcome difficulties, so I decided I could handle it too. The first obstacles appeared even before I came onboard for the first time.
Looking for employment, I visited many crew agencies. And I often received such reply: “Sorry, we don’t employ women”. Some of them even didn’t let me fill in the application form. After a while, I realized that in Ukraine this situation is normal.
Few years ago, when I was studying at the Odessa Maritime Academy (NU “OMA”), a very large and respected container shipowner requested 10 cadets regarding their cadet program. The Academy shortlisted the best candidates on their opinion, and there were three ladies, including me also. The company immediately replied: “No, we are going to hire only male candidates”.
After a while, I began to lose hope regarding the employment on board. I was even thinking to obtain a stewardess position, to see the maritime life from inside, despite the Navigator’s Diploma. I was refused many times, so when V.Ships Shipping Company offered me a cadet position, I couldn’t believe in this at first. Thus, I started working in the merchant fleet, on Handymax to be more exact.
Being on the ship, I was delighted with just the fact that I was finally here. I was filled with enthusiasm. But quite often expectation and reality don’t match each other”. One of the first tasks was a bucket, a mop and a deck cleaning. To my shame, I have to say that till that moment I have never done much cleaning. So, washing ship portholes without smudges, didn’t work out very good at first. At that time, I often called home, spending huge money on telephone service. All the time there were thoughts in my head like “Why am I here?”, “Why didn’t I choose the Faculty of Humanities like normal women?”.
But there were good days also. For example, the watch 00-04 / 12-16 with the Second Officer Volodymyr. He trained me a lot, explained about route planning, manual updates, cargo handling, etc. We were a good team. About in the middle of my contract, Volodymyr signed off and his reliever Artem came on board. Relationship with Artem was nothing like my friendship with Volodymyr. Again and again he said only “do not touch” and “back off.” One day on the watch, he stated me something like: “Everybody knows why you came here- to find a rich husband”. Then I understood what he was really thinking about me. I said: “If I were looking for a rich husband seafarer, for sure I would choose another faculty, not navigation.” After that contract, our paths have never crossed.
Over the years, I realised that team building depends on crew members, not on their nationality, age, gender or mentality. If I were a shipowner, I would employ several women on a cargo ship to balance the crew slightly. I guess that such way would give women more confidence in men’s society and would avoid unnecessary conflicts.
From the beginning my dream was to be perceived not as a woman, but as an equal employee, no matter of gender, age or nationality. Later, when I changed the fleet and started working on cruise ships, this dream came true. In 2016, I was employed by TUI Cruises, a joint venture between TUI AG and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Being already a Junior Officer, two months later I was promoted to a Third Officer. I was assigned to “Mein Schiff 3” with mixed crew. None of crew members gave me slacks just because I am a woman. I was fulfilling my exact duties and I liked it!
A few years later, being the 2nd Officer already, I decided to change something in my life and to find an ashore job. I could expect that it would be not so easy to find office job, if you have ship experience. After some period of searching, I found the offer from Epsilon Odessa, who were searching a crew manager in their staff. Requirements: 1-year experience in office or as an officer on the vessel. That was exactly what I needed so I applied for this job at once.
And after a short period of work already in the office, I got an offer to take the place of the ECDIS Instructor in Epsilon Odessa Training Center. The Instructor must hold the License of Navigator, as required, so my candidacy was well qualified for this job. I agreed, although in the beginning it was a bit scary because I understood that I will train Senior Officers and Masters.
Quite often I can see perplexity on seafarer’s faces when I come into the ECDIS training room, and the most common question “Are you our Instructor?”. “Let’s go onboard with us as the 2nd Officer,” – from time to time I hear this phrase from some Masters. And if I answer that I have already worked as the 2nd Officer, they look at me like very surprising.
If a seafarer comes to our training center to obtain knowledge, he shouldn’t care about male or female instructor he has. I like to conduct courses and to work in Epsilon Training Center. I’m completely satisfied with my position for today, just wonder what the future held for me.