Sailing solo in an industry dominated by men

Ms Wan Fei Fei, a former maritime engineer on board a ship and now an assistant director in the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's registry department, says she sees more women in the sector now. Ms Lina Soho, who was a seafaring officer for
Ms Lina Soho, who was a seafaring officer for eight years, said she felt she was under greater scrutiny as a woman on board a ship due to the gender disparity. She is now an operations manager with Miclyn Express Offshore. ST PHOTO: ZHANG XUAN
Ms Wan Fei Fei, a former maritime engineer on board a ship and now an assistant director in the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's registry department, says she sees more women in the sector now. Ms Lina Soho, who was a seafaring officer for
Ms Wan Fei Fei, a former maritime engineer on board a ship and now an assistant director in the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's registry department, says she sees more women in the sector now. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Ex-seafarers talk of challenges they faced, as maritime body lauds women's contributions

When Ms Wan Fei Fei first went to sea after joining shipping giant AP Moller as an assistant engineer in 2002, she was the only woman on the ship - though it was something she was used to.

"When I was in the National Cadet Corps (Sea) in secondary school, the whole cohort was guys, so I was used to that kind of environment," said Ms Wan, now 37.

One of her first journeys was a two-month voyage on a car carrier from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Japan via the Suez Canal, Singapore and Thailand. Her work involved ensuring the equipment on board was in working order, as well as attending to maintenance.

She initially faced harassment and was seen by some colleagues as being less competent than her male counterparts. One told her: "This is not a job for women, go home."

But, she said, that only made her want to stay more.

Today marks the International Maritime Organisation's annual Day of The Seafarer, which this year aims to encourage women to join the sector, as well as recognise their contributions.

According to figures from the International Transport Workers Federation, women make up just 2 per cent of the global maritime workforce.

Last year's Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map predicted that 5,000 new jobs will be created in the sector by 2025 and, in an April interview with The Business Times, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) chief executive Quah Ley Hoon said she wants more roles to go to women.

Meanwhile, to achieve greater gender equality in the maritime field, the organisation has a Women in Maritime programme, which aims to allow greater access to maritime training and employment opportunities for women in the sector.

Still the sector is changing, said Ms Wan, who notes that she encounters more women now.

When her father suffered a fall in 2009 and was later diagnosed with colon cancer, Ms Wan decided to switch to a shore-based career, albeit still in the maritime sector.

She is now an assistant director in the MPA's registry department.

The experience she gained in her seafaring days is now helping her in her current role, where she has to oversee the compliance of vessels coming into Singapore's port.

"If I had not gone out to sea, I would not be able to relate what I had seen to colleagues who may not have a maritime background," she said, adding that being out at sea taught her to be independent.

Ms Lina Soho, who worked as seafaring officer for eight years, said she felt she was under greater scrutiny as a woman on board a ship due to the gender disparity.

The 37-year-old, who has a Bachelor of Maritime Operations degree and a Master of Science in Maritime Studies degree, said she was attracted to the sector as she felt Singapore's position as a major port meant a guaranteed income and career, as well as a chance to travel.

She is now an operations manager with offshore chartering business Miclyn Express Offshore, in charge of specialised vessels services.

While she no longer has to go out to sea, the job comes with its own challenges. Ms Lina - who is married to a maritime engineer, with whom she has a four-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter - sometimes has to attend to calls late at night about maintenance and manpower issues on the five vessels she oversees.

Despite the challenges, Ms Lina intends to stay in the industry. She said: "I want to stick to it until the day I retire."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2019, with the headline 'Sailing solo in an industry dominated by men'. Print Edition | Subscribe