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Woman at the helm
First female to gain the Captain’s certificate in Hong Kong
Mar 2013

Sailing and navigation has traditionally been considered a masculine and male-dominated occupation, however one woman has challenged this notion to the full. Carmen CHAN, Chief Officer at China Navigation Co. Ltd, explains how studying a Diploma in Maritime Studies at IVE has broadened her horizons and led her to a life of travel and adventure.

Setting sail for at least six months a year to face heavy physical workloads, no exuberant entertainment or readily available telecommunications networks and an absence of friends or family is a world away from the conventional office job that many graduates embark on nowadays. However,these were the exact qualities that attracted Carmen, an out-going and active graduate of Diploma in Maritime Studies in 2002, to choose a career at sea.

Breaking boundaries

As the first female mariner to recently gain the Captain’s certificate of ocean-going vessels, Carmen feels very honoured and grateful for the opportunities her company has presented her over the years, but she admits it hasn’t always been an easy journey, “As a woman, I felt pressured when I first started working on the ship because when you were in a junior position, you need to work from the bottom up in order to learn the basics and this is when you encounter more physical workloads. And I don’t get any privileges and in order for me to develop my career in this industry, I’ve had to overcome all these challenges.”

Living without home comforts and her loved ones has also been a big challenge for Carmen in addition to the increase in pressure and mounting workload. She explains, “I felt lost sometimes in the past because this job separates me from my family and I couldn’t keep in touch with my friends. Even when I had my holidays in Hong Kong, my friends would need to go to work. Sometimes I would ask myself, is it really worth it?”

More than a title

Despite these challenges, Carmen maintains that it is the experience she has gained through her work that has kept her navigating the waters, “Sometimes we don’t need to spend any money for travelling to different countries, some of which even planes cannot reach, such as Papua New Guinea. We always cooperate with crews from many different countries therefore we get to know about their cultures and lifestyles. These precious experiences and opportunities given by my company have encouraged me to stay in my job till now.”

Carmen has also found inspiration from her seniors over the years, something she hopes to share with future generations who choose to follow in her footsteps, “One of my seniors encouraged me and said, ‘what you get after 10 years of hard work is not the title and the salary, but the experience that normal people cannot have, which broaden your horizons. I’m now the Chief Officer of the ship and am confident that I’ll become a captain in the near future. I hope that my story can help attract more young people to the industry.”

A job for life

A great demand for crewmen in Hong Kong, due to a shortage of young captains under the age of 30, means that graduates in maritime studies do not need to worry about the risk of facing unemployment once they graduate. In fact, the industry has been promoting maritime jobs recently in an effort to try and attract more young people. Carmen advises that young people who are more out-going, dislike routine office work, and are able to deal with hard works are best suited for jobs in the maritime sector. She explains, “The most important thing is that they need to be independent because working on a ship is very different from working in an office. We need to solve problems ourselves most of the time. In addition, there is more physical work when you start working as a cadet, so it is better for young people who are physically strong.”

Carmen also attributes her success to her learning experience of the Diploma in Maritime Studies at IVE, which helped set her up for her career at sea. She concludes, “The content of the course is very diversified and includes a very broad scope of learning materials. It is also the only one in Hong Kong that provides complete maritime training and education and although it is difficult, it is very suitable for a person like me, who has a lively character.”

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