Singapore Navy's highest-ranking female officer Jerica Goh: Charting new territory for women on the high seas

Colonel Jerica Goh, who heads the Naval Training Department, is now the highest-ranking female naval officer, fulfilling a wish made 25 years ago by a fellow officer to have female officers command ships and units.
Colonel Jerica Goh, who heads the Naval Training Department, is now the highest-ranking female naval officer, fulfilling a wish made 25 years ago by a fellow officer to have female officers command ships and units.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

When Colonel Jerica Goh was a junior officer in her 20s, she faced a taboo about women in the engine room of a ship.

"On one ship, I was told that girls were not allowed to walk through the engine room because it's pantang," said Col Goh, 42, using the Malay word for "taboo".

"They said the ship, being 'female', might get jealous and offended."

But as she recalled the memory, Col Goh, who joined the Republic of Singapore Navy in 1993, shrugged it off as a "funny story".

"At that time, I thought, if I was not allowed to go through the engine room, then I won't take charge of that ship when I am on duty," said Col Goh, who is now the head of the Naval Training Department.

In her 24 years in the navy, that was the only incident where she was treated differently because of her gender, she said.

Since then, Col Goh has risen up the ranks and is now the highest-ranking female naval officer.

 

As the Singapore Navy celebrates its 50th anniversary today, Col Goh is a living embodiment of an aspiration penned in a time capsule 25 years ago by a fellow female naval officer- to have female officers command ships and units.

The wish, which was made by then Lieutenant Phoon Chiu Yoke, was revealed when the capsule was opened in January this year.

Seven years after Lt Phoon made the wish, Major Tay Poh Ling became the first female commanding officer of a ship.

Later, in 2013, Col Goh became the first female commanding officer (CO) of a frigate when she took charge of RSS Supreme - the navy's most advanced warship.

Since 1999, there have been about 10 female commanding officers of naval ships, including Col Goh.

Female navy personnel now make up about 8 per cent of staff.

As CO of RSS Supreme, Col Goh led a search-and-rescue operation for AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in December 2014 - which was a challenging mission, she said.

For 10 days, the RSS Supreme surveyed the Java Sea, sometimes in rough conditions, for debris and survivors from the plane, which had vanished with 162 passengers and crew members.

"A few times, we were quite lucky that everyone on the launched boats returned safely."

Based on her experience, Col Goh said that on a ship, gender matters little. "In the end, it's about how we coordinate activities, the ships, resources and fight the war. It's more about decision-making skills than physical ability," she added.

Charmaine Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2017, with the headline 'Charting new territory for women on the high seas'. Print Edition | Subscribe