Interview with Second Engineer Naznin Shamim on the “HAFNIA PHOENIX”

The below interview text was followed by some more general discussion as part of a panel at the Surabhi Seminar 2024.

1. What motivated you to pursue a career in marine engineering and seafaring?

It goes right back to my childhood days, when I was in class 8 in 2006. I was attending a passing out ceremony at the Marine Engineering and Research Institute – formerly known as the Directorate of Marine Engineering Training, and now the Indian Maritime University – Kolkata Campus.

I was the guest of my father, Md. Shamim Ahmad Ansari, who was the Assistant Director of the Institute, and I saw Ms. Sonali Banerjee, the first ever female Indian Engine Cadet, being honoured by receiving her passing out certificate of B.Tech in Marine Engineering from the guest of honour, the Governor of West Bengal. That is what triggered my interest in shipping and engineering.

2. Where did you undertake your studies in marine engineering?

I myself also obtained a B.Tech in Marine Engineering, from NITMAS, the Neotia Institute of Technology Management and Science – formerly the Institute of Technology and Marine Engineering in Kolkata.

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

The Synergy Marine Group is a very large and widely renowned company managing a huge number of many types of vessels and operating a broad business network all over the world. It has provided me with a warm welcome, guidance, support, the best possible facilities and promising career growth. All this has meant full satisfaction for me in my sailing and has made me feel comfortable as a seafarer while I build up my colleagues’ trust in me. I feel like part of a family whose inbuilt mutual trust means that every seafarer will put in his or her full effort towards the common goal of development for everyone, thus putting us ahead and making us stand apart in the global market.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that I appreciate Synergy’s efforts in providing a strong base for both myself and my female colleagues in starting and now building successful careers in the merchant navy.

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

Working at sea means that I can avoid urban air pollution and the difficulties and daily hassle of commuting to a city workplace, and it is also remote from the many social and also political issues that arise on shore. There is always a healthy and well-balanced diet, in further aid of good health, with much emphasis on punctuality and very little scope for laziness.

5. Please describe a typical seafaring day

I think that seafarers generally enjoy their work, albeit that they are often far and long away from family, and there is a good mix of work and play. For me, each day starts with the sort of routines and jobs that you would expect for a Second Engineer, and pretty much everyone at the end of the day relaxes by recreational activities such as the gym, swimming, table tennis and team games.

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

For me, the one thing would be to make taking shore leave easier, but I guess that busy port schedules and work demands are part of the structure.

7. Female seafarers are still comparatively scarce, but things are changing for the better. Do you agree?

Yes, I do. These days there is a slowly increasing but ever more detectable number of female seafarers in the shipping industry, because companies like Synergy are leading by example.

Female marine engineer working on vessel.

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

Other people have answered this from different angles, but my own take is as follows.

Because, by nature, women are very sincere and diligent in the way they discharge their responsibilities as mothers and wives, and in other roles that used to be considered suitable – such as sales representatives or receptionists – women can likewise be relied on to perform all their tasks as seafarers responsibly and effectively. So, you can say that one advantage of having women on board is that each woman is a reminder of that.

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

Creating more job opportunities for women, and in some cases (though of course only for suitably qualified people) giving them actual preference at various ranks, both on board and ashore, would help, in my view, and none of that is a step too far.

Also, introduction of provident funds and better medical benefits (and certainly more advantageous maternity benefits) will help attract more women on board.

9. Female seafarers are still comparatively scarce, but things are changing for the better. Do you agree?

Yes, and more and more often women can sail safely – I mean, without any prejudice or unpleasantness – and freely, by which I mean they are treated just like men in terms of the work and how they are thought of.

woman seafarer on Oil/Chemical Tanker

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

I am hopefully about to qualify as a Chief Engineer, by obtaining the MEO Class 1 Certificate of Competence, as issued by the Indian Directorate General of Shipping. I have been working hard towards that, and if I succeed then hopefully promotion opportunities will follow.

In five years I see myself continuing to grow in my career and taking on progressively more responsibility within the company, and using the expertise that I have gained from working in this industry for the past 10 years.

11. What do you do when you are ashore?

At the moment, as well as spending whatever time I can with my family, the answer is mostly studying for my next examination.

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

I would miss the natural clean air and also the sense of adventure that comes with working at sea. It is maybe a bit ironic in view of my answer at 6 above, but I would probably also miss shore leave. I would certainly miss understanding different people and their thoughts, and increasing the number of social groups and individual friends.

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

After the competitive West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination, and also what used to be called the All India Engineering Entrance Examination, I was offered a place to study for a B.Tech in Information Technology at several institutions, including the University of Burdwan and NIT Durgapur, but I declined those and kept to Marine Engineering, as I preferred, and still prefer, a career involving natural adventure and the enjoyment of travelling the globe while at work.

14. Is there a particular moment or accomplishment at sea that left a lasting impression on you?

I always particularly enjoy the crew gatherings at parties like birthdays and Christmas, and other such events.

15. What specific skills or qualities do you believe make a successful engineer on board, and how have you developed or refined these traits throughout your career?

I think the most important things at the workplace are punctuality, sincerity and obeying senior people, and also showing cooperation, politeness, helpfulness, enthusiasm and motivation. More specifically as regards skills, you also need a balance of logical reasoning and creativity and an aptitude for problem-solving, together with discipline and ability in leadership and teamwork, allied to a passion for learning. All of these are good qualities generally, and especially so for a successful engineer, and I hope and think that I have them and am developing them.

woman marine engineer working on ship engine room

16. How do you foresee technological advancements shaping the future of the maritime industry and, more specifically, your role as an Engineer on board?

Digitization, sensors and automated processes are leading to optimised energy use, fuel efficiency, vessel performance and condition monitoring. As an Engineer on board, I see these developments becoming increasingly important in keeping a good lookout on fuel consumption, and it will be vital to keep updated on the latest technologies, and regularly to review all relevant maritime incidents and near misses and learn from those and share that learning among crew and shore-based colleagues.

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

I would advise all youngsters always to set their sights as high as possible, whether as part of the Deck or Engine Room team, and to work really hard and diligently. They should not let homesickness worry them, and should each instead concentrate on being a good learner, from both formal tutoring and their superiors, and of course always follow the work instructions they are given promptly and fully. The requisite sea time has to be completed, so people can qualify for their next round of examinations, and I think it is especially important that female seafarers keep on with this without breaking off, and so maintain the continuity that will help to answer any remaining doubters in the industry. Then, subject to opportunity and ability, higher rank, and even that of Chief Engineer or Master, might be attained. Later on, if they want, people might switch to shore-based opportunities, and I would hope to see more and more female seafarers following this path.