by Andrew Ngozo


Empowering Maritime Women


An unprecedented gathering of women maritime leaders from around the globe, South Africa and Africa included, participated in the 2014 Maritime Women: Global Leadership International Conference (MWGL). Representing areas throughout the maritime sector, 265 women and men from 74 countries participated in the event to discuss the advancement of women in maritime professions. The event was hosted from 31 March to 1 April 2014 by the World Maritime University (WMU), which has a memorandum of understanding with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). The MWGL was held in cooperation with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and built on the 2008 conference hosted by the WMU that focused on empowering maritime women.


The MWGL comprised a two-day programme with workshops that focused on Employment, Policy, and Practice; Education for Career Building; Leadership, Mentoring and Networking; 


Sustainable Development in Shipping; and Promoting Diversity. The various sessions  concentrated on regional perspectives from the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Arab states, and Africa. With a focus on research, and with male and female participants from so many regions around the globe, and from so many areas of the maritime sector, the MWGL was a unique and powerful event.


In his welcoming remarks, WMU President Dr Björn Kjerfve stated: “The old maritime world in which women could be ignored or marginalised has largely disappeared; it may still exist in some mind-sets, but, globally, it is a thing of the past.” He noted that the sector has changed for the better with the involvement of women and that “an industry that carries 90% of the world’s goods needs at least 90% of the world’s talent … and gender is irrelevant”.


Readers will recall that Dr Kjerfve visited South Africa in 2012, a tour which entailed a country-wide visit to maritime infrastructure and institutions. At the time, he commented that South Africa had laid the necessary foundations for the country and, in turn, the continent to be a formidable player in the global maritime sphere. “There is definitely enough capacity which, spurred in the right direction, will achieve incredible results.”


Increasing Numbers to Overcome Challenges

The number of women in maritime professions is increasing, yet shipping remains a male-dominated industry. As the industry continues to grow, sustainability in respect of shipping will logically be dependent on more women entering the maritime professions. Dr Lina Shbeeb, Minister of Transport for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, delivered the opening address in which she thanked the WMU for bringing the participants together “to discuss challenges and map out a path for cooperation between all parties who support the involvement of women in the maritime sector”.


Nancy Karigithu, Director-General of the Kenya Maritime Authority, chaired the workshop on Employment, Policy, and Practice, later reporting that the conclusions of the session suggested that, in order to attract women to maritime careers and promote equality, formal strategies might be required to overcome challenges inhibiting the progress of women in the maritime sector. Such strategies could include reserving spaces for women in training programmes, as well as short- and long-term goals for gender equality together with corresponding timetables to ensure progress. She further noted: “Differences between women and men are not challenges; they are talents that should be exploited and will add economic value to the workplace in the maritime sector.” Further strategies suggested for equality in the workplace included offering continuing professional development programmes for all individuals who require a break from the profession so that they can maintain their skills at the appropriate levels for workplace re-entry. In the case of women seafarers, it was recommended that there always be at least two on board a ship at any given time.


The strength of education, mentoring and networking was recognised as key to the advancement of all individuals, with participation in national and international associations being highly recommended. Carla Limcaoco, President of Women in Maritime, the Philippines, and Director of PTC Management Corporation, emphasised: “It is important for women who enter the industry to persevere. There will be traditions to overcome and social stigma to deal with, but if they continue and receive the support from the network of a national women’s association they can succeed.”


Mentoring Women in Maritime Is Vital

In such a global profession, understanding cultural differences was deemed invaluable and the importance of international student exchange and of networking was accentuated. Claudia Grant, Deputy Director-General of the Maritime Authority of Jamaica, maintained that events such as the MWGL are not only an important inspiration for women who have been working in the maritime sector to come together and build networks, but also “remind us that we have a responsibility to reach out to, and mentor, young women in the maritime profession”. Overall, gender equality was underscored for both women and men, and there was an overarching understanding that suitability for maritime careers had less to do with gender, and more to do with an individual’s ability. Katharina Stanzel, Managing Director of INTERTANKO stated: “What we need to be aware of and be honest about is that shipping is not for everybody. Whether they are male or female doesn’t really matter. It is a very special activity. Some parts of shipping require physical pain. They require people to be tired, wet, hungry, scared. It’s part of shipping. And there are women, just as men, who enjoy that challenge, so let’s make it possible.”


Pamela Tansey, Senior Deputy-Director of the IMO Technical Cooperation Division, laid down the IMO’s strategy for the integration of women in the maritime sector in 1989. In the final session of the conference, she remarked: “Having been to conferences on gender and on capacity-building for the maritime sector, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the subject taken so far ahead before, partly because we have had a collaborative approach with men and women in the room… . There is also not a single geographical region that has not been represented here.” She further noted that the conference did not dwell on the challenges facing women in maritime, but rather took them into account – and then looked beyond them for ways to move forward.


In her closing remarks, the Chair of the Conference Committee, WMU Associate Professor María Carolina Romero, reflected on the importance of the unique opportunity to hear from colleagues from around the globe who are employed throughout the varied areas of the maritime sector. She summarised the overarching goals revealed during the two-day event, which include real and fair opportunities for women, as well as opportunities equal to those available to men in the industry. She also encouraged building a network of maritime women: “We can accomplish so much when we recognise the incredible strength there is in cooperation and consensus. I hope you all go home with greater awareness regarding your own power and you share it. But, most of all, please use it.” Sponsors of the MWGL included the IMO, TORM, NORDEN, Malmö Högskola, the Nippon Foundation, and AP Möller og Hustru Chastine McKinney Möllers Fond til almene Formaal. Final outcomes of the conference will include a book to be published by the end of 2014. In addition, a declaration in support of the advancement of maritime women was drafted with the intent of submitting it to IMO member governments and IMO bodies.


South African and Continental Maritime Affairs

In South Africa, SAMSA is the maritime regulatory authority. With Commander Tsietsi Mokhele at the helm as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the Authority aims to be the apex maritime authority in the region, Africa and the world. SAMSA has executed its duties well thus far and recently celebrated 16 years of providing maritime support services for South Africa, the continent and the world. What is SAMSA and what does the Authority’s mandate entail?


Accountable to the Minister of Transport, SAMSA was established on 1 April 1998 in terms of the South African Maritime Safety Authority Act 5 of 1998. SAMSA is governed by a board made up of the CEO and six non-executive members, including the chair and deputy chair, as appointed by the Minister. The organisation’s objective is to lead and champion South Africa’s maritime interests as custodians and stewards of maritime policy, to be a vigorous promoter of the maritime sector, and to give full and complete effect to the Authority’s obligations for the benefit of all stakeholders. SAMSA strives to champion South Africa’s global maritime ambitions and its mission is: “To promote South Africa’s maritime interests and development and position the country as an international Maritime Centre while ensuring maritime safety, health and environmental protection.”


In line with its objectives, as stated in section 3 of the SAMSA Act, the organisation’s primary areas of responsibility include the following:

  •  Participating in the development and implementation of national and international maritime safety and marine environment protection standards.

  •  Enforcing technical and operational standards for all shipping operations in South African waters and for South African ships anywhere in order to promote responsible operations in terms of seaworthiness, safety and pollution prevention.

  •  Enforcing training standards and the competency of seafarers.

  •  Managing the national capability to respond to marine pollution incidents and other maritime emergencies.

  •  Operating the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre so as to coordinate maritime assistance services, as well as responsibility for detection and coordination efforts relating to the location and rescue of people in maritime distress situations throughout the internationally agreed South African Search and Rescue Region.

  •  Overseeing the provision of maritime distress and safety communication services to discharge South Africa’s responsibilities under the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.

  •  Administering South Africa’s voluntary ship-reporting system for identifying and tracking ships at sea for safety purposes and to provide a ship database for responding to marine emergencies.

  •  Investigating incidents of maritime casualties.

  •  Delivering related services, including:

    • Public awareness and education in marine safety and pollution prevention.

    •  Administration of South Africa’s ship-registration system.

    •  Publication of, and access to, ship safety and environmental standards.


SAMSA delivers four main outputs consistent with its mandate and responsibilities:

  •  Safety and environment protection standards for responsible maritime transport operations.

  •  An infrastructure for monitoring and enforcing compliance with safety and environment protection standards.

  •  The capability to respond to marine pollution incidents and other maritime emergencies.

  •  The capability to detect, locate and rescue people in maritime distress situations. 



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Tel: +27 667 6623

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