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By Soon Li Wei
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – When she completed her secondary education in 2007, Hakimah Saiful Bahri made up her mind to join the maritime industry after coming across a print advertisement by the Malaysian Maritime Academy (ALAM) seeking to recruit female cadets.
The same year, that is, a year after ALAM opened its doors to female students in 2006, she joined the academy to pursue a diploma-level course in nautical studies.
Now aged 33, Hakimah has worked her way up to be the first female senior dynamic positioning officer on board the ship where she works, proving that women too have their fair share of career-advancement opportunities in the mostly male-dominated maritime industry.
“Actually, after finishing high school I had no intention of becoming a seafarer. I wanted to be a lawyer. No one in my family works in the maritime industry. But my life changed the minute I saw the advertisement by ALAM.
“I put in my application (to enroll in ALAM) and was accepted and I graduated as a deck officer in 2010,” she said.
Hakimah shared her maritime working experience during a national seminar on Strengthening Women’s Network in Maritime Community held here, recently. It was organised by the Women in Maritime Association Malaysia (MyWIMA) in collaboration with the Transport Ministry and Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association.
JOB SCOPE AS A FEMALE SEAFARER
Hakimah also has other achievements to her credit. Besides being the chief officer or senior dynamic positioning officer (DPO) of a diving support ship, she was also the first female pioneer on board an offshore support vessel to obtain the Malaysian Certificate of Competency (COC) Class One Master of 3,000GT (gross tonnage) in 2020, which allows her to steer any kind of ship both in local and international waters.
As a DPO, Hakimah is responsible for the ship’s 'safe station keeping system' and for monitoring the logistic operations around her, such as the movement of supply vessels or helicopters.
Dynamic positioning (DP) is a system that controls a ship's position and stability while at sea using its propellers and thrusters, while the DPO acts as the primary watchkeeper at the DP control desk.
"I’m also in charge of controlling the DP computer system, as well as the thrust units, power management and equipment redundancy.
"In fact, I also monitor the radar periodically for changing traffic and weather conditions, keep the vessel in a stable position directly over a fixed point on the seabed, and help the offshore installations manager and the mate to set up emergency systems and put them into effect in the event of mechanical failure," she added.
So far, she has travelled to over 20 countries across the South China Sea, Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, Norway Sea, Baltic Sea and various straits.
WOMEN IN MARITIME
Acknowledging that working in the maritime industry can be challenging and even dangerous, Hakimah said growing up with five brothers helped her a lot to be comfortable working with men without feeling awkward or afraid.
"I have always believed that in a male-dominated industry, one shouldn't look at the gender and physical differences but the ability to perform tasks according to their respective strengths, competencies, abilities and experience.
"What's more, every seafarer goes through learning phases, training and standard exam assessments. Mutual respect between colleagues is also very important to maintain a positive work environment and enable us women to lead the team, give instructions and carry out our responsibilities and duties well,” she said, adding that she is grateful to be surrounded by male colleagues who always give her their support and guidance and do not “underestimate my abilities and capabilities when performing my duties”.
Hakimah said women’s participation in the maritime industry is still low and that in 2020, only 1.2 percent of seafarers globally comprised women, according to a report issued last year by the Baltic and International Maritime Council and the International Chamber of Shipping.
"In fact, according to the Marine Department Malaysia, only 1,925 out of 72,426 seafarers in Malaysia between 2010 to 2017 comprised women," she said.
She said there still existed the perception that maritime careers are not suited to women as such jobs require physical strength and entail a dangerous working environment.
"The fact that the industry is male-dominated also makes most women feel that they may face discrimination and may not get equal opportunities for career advancement.
"Many women are afraid to venture into an industry dominated by men because they believe they may face physical harassment, severe verbal abuse and low levels of support from their male colleagues,” she said.
She said this misunderstanding still persists due to a lack of understanding about the diverse and rewarding career prospects as a seafarer.
"The International Maritime Organisation is committed to promoting gender equality and encouraging women in sailing careers and in maritime leadership.
"Malaysia has seen an increase in the number of women becoming seafarers and even reaching high positions and sharing their knowledge and experience through the establishment of the Women in Maritime Association Malaysia (MyWIMA)," she said.
MyWIMA president Dr Yasmin Mohd Hasni said there is still ample room for women to participate in the maritime industry.
"The ratio of women and men in this country is almost equal. Yet only two percent of those working in the maritime industry comprise women," she said.
Yasmin, who is also Marine Department Malaysia deputy director, added that the Straits of Malacca, which is one of the busiest waterways in the world, generates many job opportunities.
"Just imagine, we live next to the sea which is a highway for more than 80,000 ships every year. There are many employment opportunities that pay well," she added.
Edited by Rema Nambiar
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