For centuries, the shipping industry has been considered to be a male-oriented profession, and it still is. This profession has always been associated with tough men working onboard, sailing through rough seas. Women were always considered to be too soft and delicate for this field. But in the last few decades, just like every other profession, women in Merchant Navy have made a remarkable impact on the shipping industry.
With the support of the International Maritime Organisation and the national governing bodies of various countries, women in Merchant Navy have completely changed the notion of shipping being a male-oriented profession.
Although, the journey was not so smooth for most women who dared to enter this profession at a time when women were not even encouraged to pursue a career in their own hometowns. But over the years, these women continuously pushed barriers and proved the naysayers wrong. Despite the prevalent gender disparity in this field, these women have broken all stereotypes and have set a benchmark for the next generation of women seafarers.
In this blog, we talk about such inspiring women who went against all societal norms and followed their dreams of pursuing a successful career at sea.
Capt. Radhika Menon
Capt. Radhika Menon started her career as a radio officer with the Shipping Corporation of India and later on went on to become the first female Indian Captain on a merchant vessel. In 2016, she became the first woman to be awarded the International Maritime Organisation Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea for courageously saving 7 fishermen from a sinking boat in the Bay of Bengal during adverse weather conditions. She also received the ‘Nari Shakti Puraskar’ from President Ram Nath Kovind in 2022. Along with other women naval officers, Suneeti Bala and Sharvani Mishra, she co-founded the International Women Seafarer’s Foundation (IWSF) with the aim to encourage young women in Merchant Navy.
Sonali Banerjee is the first woman marine engineer of our country. She was born and brought up in Allahabad and always had a fascination for a career at sea. She joined the Marine Engineering Research Institute at Kolkata and was the only female candidate in a batch of 1500 students. But she defied all societal norms and got her first job with Mobil Shipping Co.
Reshma Nilofer is India’s first woman maritime pilot and one of the few elite women river pilots in the world. She was born in Chennai and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nautical Science. She started working with the Kolkata Port Trust in 2011 and became the first woman river pilot in the world, maneuvering ships from the sea to the Kolkata port, through the Hooghly River. She also received the ‘Nari Shakti Puruskar’ from President Ram Nath Kovind in 2019.
Nyari Nain is a 2nd Engineer who has worked with Anglo-Eastern Ship Management. She is the author of the widely acclaimed book, “Anchor My Heart”. The book was inspired by her harsh sailing experience with a Chief Engineer, and the theme of the book revolves around the life of a woman seafarer and the challenges that come with it. She was awarded the Young Seafarer Achievement Award by the DG Shipping and the Government of India for her book. She is also a TEDx speaker and is currently working as a Fleet Superintendent with Maersk FMT.
Ankita Srivastava is a former seafarer of 11 years and was India’s first female Chief Engineer on foreign-going vessels. While serving at sea she worked with Chevron which is one of the best ownership shipping companies out there. Currently, she is working with Teekay in their London office as a Voyage Manager in Commercial Operations.
Romeeta Bundela is the first lady Electro technical officer from our country. She worked as a senior ETO in Maersk Line and is currently serving as the Jr. Electrical Superintendent in the same company. Her job as a senior ETO onboard a container vessel was not an easy one as it demands a lot of physical exertion. She had to handle 1000 plus reefers onboard along with carrying our other engine room tasks and duties. But by the end of every contract, she has always proved her worth to her fellow crewmates.
M.T. Swarna Krishna – First vessel in the world with all women officers
M.T. Swarna Krishna is a product carrier owned by Shipping Corporation of India which created history on the 6th of March, 2021 by becoming the first sailing vessel with an all-women crew. Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya flagged off an all-women crew on board the M.T. Swarna Krishna on 6th March 2021. This move by the Shipping Corporation of India moved the perception of shipping being a male-oriented profession and was seen as a significant move in empowering women in Merchant Navy.
IWSF: International Women Seafarers Foundation
The International Women Seafarer Foundation was founded in 2017 by three of the leading women in the Indian shipping industry, Capt. Radhika Menon, Ch. Engineer Suneeti Bala, and Ms. Sharvani Mishra. The IWSF is a non-profit trust which works for the benefit of women seafarers around the world with the objective to reduce gender disparity in the shipping industry. Currently, they have over 300 women seafarer members from India, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Oman.
Most women face a number of social challenges while pursuing a career at sea. These women, often young girls, are unable to take the right decision at the right time when they find themselves in a difficult situation. The IWSF supports these women in their respective journeys.
The inspiring women mentioned in this blog belong to different corners of our country, they come from different economic and academic backgrounds. But all these women had one thing in common, that is determination. The determination to prove everyone wrong when the whole world was against them.
They are much more than just Ch. Engineers and Captains of a vessel; they are role models and legends for an entire generation of young girls who dream about stepping out of their comfort zones and achieving the unthinkable. They are a beacon of light for all the girls around the world who have been told by society that they are not as strong as their male counterparts.
In this blog, we have written about some of the most inspiring women seafarers of our country with the sole objective of motivating many more young women to break out of the bubble that the society has cast over them, and follow their dreams.