Marine Engineer Shaili Srivastava on ‘BIRGIT’

1. Why did you choose a career in seafaring?

I had two reasons. One was that I felt I needed a good and rewarding career, in case I had to support my family financially, as seemed possible at that time. The other was that I wanted to step out of what I felt was my perceived comfort zone. In other words I wanted to break out of what is still, in some places, gender stereotyping.  

2.  Where did you complete your training?

I was fortunate enough to do this at TMI, the Tolani Maritime Institute at Induri, Pune.

3. Why did you want to join the Synergy Marine Group and what has been your experience sailing with them?

I actually started with Maersk and transferred across with the merger between Synergy and Maersk Tankers, and just as with Maersk my experience has been very good.  

4. Please describe a typical seafaring day

Our working day begins with a Toolbox Meeting at 08:00 where  the 2E and CO respectively plan the daily engineering and deck  jobs, and teams are assigned their tasks for the day. We always work as a team and everyone is available to assist others as and when needed. We normally wrap up by 17:30, unless of course any task is incomplete. After working hours whoever wants to can either play games or watch movies in the Day Rooms. I also like to go to the gym and play my musical instruments – a guitar and a flute – or just read. 

5. What do you enjoy the most about working at sea?

Again, there are two things.I like that the job needs us to be both physically and mentally active, and that it has therefore made me stronger, in both respects. I am definitely becoming  progressively stronger physically. 

Also, soft skills really develop when working and living with multiple nationalities, among maybe 20 other people who all have different opinions. 

6. What is the one thing that should change to make life better on board?

It may be unavoidable, due to scheduling and all that is needed during port calls, but I feel that at times people are overworked, and that having a few extra hands would make life a lot better and help us accomplish the tasks more efficiently.

Also, having skilled cooks on all vessels would make our lives better. I know that there are a great many very good seafaring cooks, but I myself have not often experienced that, and mostly the idea seems to be that seafarers eat just to survive, but of course there is a lot more to eating than that.

There also needs to be a better balance between the strictly professional and the more informal interpersonal relationships among crew. Seafarers’ recreation and mental health are very important, and without more emphasis on the social side of things there is a risk of quality interaction being confined to the workplace, and that is not a good thing.

7. Have you faced any particular challenges as a female seafarer?

Yes, I have, with my work clothes, specifically boiler suits and safety shoes. It is due to the way things used to be (i.e. no women at sea), but both are still made for men, and of course women are built differently. For example, I always need to wear two pairs of socks, as the shoes are designed for men, but women generally have narrower feet. I am not suggesting any kind of fashion industry for onboard kit, but I hope that, as more women go to sea, and that gets better known, clothing and footwear design catch up.

The other challenge I have faced is doing heavy physical work at (putting this delicately) certain times, whose effect differs among women, so it is hard to see any fix that suitably addresses this, the demands of the jobs that need to be done and the concern that any such could be a fetter on the wider principle of more women at sea. I raise this as something that has sometimes been a personal problem, but I cannot offer any workable solution.   

8. Female seafarers are still comparatively scarce but things are changing for the better do you agree?

Yes I do. I believe that things are certainly changing for the better. 

9. What are some of the advantages of having women on board?

I feel that women are more empathetic than men, which at certain times can be helpful in relation to the conditions on board, i.e. where we are all away from our loved ones. 

10. What further changes do you think the maritime industry needs to make to improve gender equality and attract more women on board?

One thing would be an understanding of the difficulties mentioned at 7 above. Though, as I say, it is hard to see what can be done, in general, about the second of them, part of this must be that any woman on board must always be made to feel comfortable about raising this, just as anyone would raise any matter relating to the work and safety. More widely, the industry needs to continue to strive to provide a comfortable working atmosphere, and perhaps, until it becomes universal to have women on board, in some instances placing two women together on a ship, where possible, would help. I can see issues with that, of course, and do not suggest it as standard, but it might in some cases be helpful for, say, a woman who is at sea for the first time to be linked to another, as her informal mentor.

11. What are your aspirations and where do you see yourself in five years?

I see myself as having cleared my Class 2 and Class 1 exams, and I am working towards being a confident 3rd Engineer.  

12. What do you do when you are ashore?

I have a natural inclination towards music and when I am ashore, when I can I like to perform at local cafes. My other hobbies include gardening, singing and travelling.

13. If you ever had a shore-based role what would you miss the most about working at sea?

I would miss the sunrises, sunsets and the cool fresh breeze the most.

14. Share something interesting about yourself that we might not know

I write poetry, am a self-taught guitarist and am currently learning to play the bansuri, which is an Indian side-blown flute.

15. What career advice would you give to anyone considering a career at sea and also to young female seafarers?

My advice is to be very clear and understand the reality of life on board and not only consider the aspect of salary. There are other rewards.

To young female seafarers my advice is to always maintain a professional attitude. Each of us is responsible for the next one, as the industry is still only transitioning, and it is our duty to support this change.