By Prakhyati Raut
I have sailed as a Trainee Marine Engineer on an Indian Bulk Carrier, as a Junior Engineer on a Korean Car Carrier and as a 4th Engineer on a Chinese Chemical Tanker before joining Apeejay Shipping. I sailed on Sher-e-Punjab ; Glovis Companion ; New Dawn for 8 ½ , 6 and 7 ½ months respectively as the only woman in the all male crew of around 25 members !
I still remember the day when I set sail on my first ship, since before that I had only seen a ship in pictures. My boss was the 2nd engineer and I was the junior most engineer in the ship. The first thing I learned was engine room pipeline diagram, i.e. understanding and tracing the pipelines of a ship. The first challenge that I faced during sailing was sea sickness because I had never been on a ship before. My seniors helped me to cope by getting used to it as it is very common on ships. Facing such challenges and learning to cope with them prepared me to be mentally strong. Interestingly, the first ship that I went to after joining Apeejay Shipping was Bulk Carrier APJ Mahakali as a Volunteer! I was joined by an artist from another group company who had volunteered to paint endangered animals and habitat on the bulk head of the crew smoking room. The objective was to urge Mahakali’s crew to watch out and report illegal wildlife trafficking. I felt very honoured to be chosen for such a crucial and important activity connected to Apeejay Shipping’s Wild Life Protection Policy commitment to shut down trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products as a signatory to Buckingham Palace Declaration led by the Royal Foundation and NGO United for Wildlife. This is also the first time I was part of Individual Social Responsibility (ISR®), Apeejay Surrendra Group’s ten year old Employee Volunteering Program.
Going to a ship as a Volunteer, instead of a sea farer that I am, was a new experience for me! Here is a picture of me after we finished our Ship Art!
It has been a rewarding journey so far ever since I joined the shipping industry in 2012 after completing my 4-year B Tech in Marine Engineering. I was one of the two girls in my batch of 68 students. Right from my childhood, I was always attracted to how machines work. I wanted to be an automobile engineer when I grew up. But during the counselling sessions after my joint entrance examination results came out, there was no seat left in automobile engineering course. So, I took up the marine engineering course at Neotia Institute of Technology, Management and Science (NITMAS), Kolkata, from where I got selected to Wallem Shipping as a Trainee Marine Engineer (TME) through campus interviews. I used take extra interest in learning the job and was always proactive in taking up new challenges. This was appreciated a lot by my seniors.
Before setting sail on my 2nd ship as a Junior Engineer, I took MEO Class IV exam for promotion to 4th Engineer, which was held at Mercantile Marine Department in Khidderpore, Kolkata, in 2014. There were 10 papers in total and I cleared all of them in March 2015. During my journeys, I have visited China, Australia, Singapore, USA, Durban and Brazil. However, I could not go around these places much as we had very little lay over time at the port. One of my most challenging journeys on the 2nd ship was when we were faced with a very rough weather en route to Australia. As an engineer, one has to ensure that a ship does not tilt more than 30-40 degrees during stormy weather, otherwise it would topple and drown in the sea. Hence we had to be very alert while working in the Engine Room. I still remember that time when we had to remain awake night after night to ensure that the ship sailed smoothly.
When I joined the industry, everyone had told me that I might face problems with food as there would be people of various cultures and communities in the crew. I have sailed with Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Philipino and Ukrainian crew but to my surprise, I have never faced any problem. My work timing was from 8 am to 5 pm. We used have dinner at 6 pm. After that we used to watch movies or play carrom or chat with colleagues. There was not much of a social life on board but we used to have good food on board. Once a month, our Master would throw a party when we would have food, games and drinks.
Being the only woman crew on a ship is not easy. It requires a lot of mental strength. It sometimes stretches to 12 hours, sometimes 18 hours without any rest. Also being a woman in this profession is not easy. You have to be away from your family for 6-8 months every year. You have to be mentally very strong also as you have to stay among a group of men. While I have had no bad experiences, it is not at all easy to be the only woman in an all men crew.
My three most important learnings so far has been –
- Discipline – one of the first and foremost things that I learnt when I joined was discipline. I learnt to pay respect to seniors no matter what, be in proper uniform at the right places and always maintain integrity.
- The second most important thing that I learnt was if you know your job, everybody will treat you with respect. If you don’t know your job, nobody will respect you.
- The third most important thing I learnt was that wherever you work, work with dignity. In every ship, there will be something new to learn. In my last ship, I learnt how to handle different kinds of machinery and met senior colleagues from the Hong Kong office.
What I like most about the shipping industry is the practical nature of the work – you can see the machine in front of yourself, how it works and address the problems. I love this practical approach of the job and I want to stick to the technical aspect of shipping.
Prakhyati is Deputy Manager (Technical), Apeejay Shipping Limited (ASL). Her job includes assisting the Technical Superintendent, communicating with vendors, arranging for inspection of machinery and updation of certificates. She is the first woman mariner in ASL.