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'I'm the only female onboard': Life for a Filipina cadet engineer at sea

'I'm the only female onboard': Life for a Filipina cadet engineer at sea
Maridel Martinez 30 March 2023

Twenty-two-year old Mariam Edris is an engine cadet. Her goal is to be a chief engineer and eventually work towards improving the lives of female seafarers in the maritime industry. Credit: SBS Filipino
There are around two million seafarers around the globe. Women represent 1.2 percent of the workforce in the global maritime industry.

Filipina at sea

Among the handful of women working in the maritime industry is 22-year-old Mariam Edris. She is currently an engine cadet, working her way to become a female engineer at sea.

A scholarship from the International Maritime Employers Council at the Maritime Academy of the Asia and Pacific has led her to embrace life at sea. She has spent a year on board and when loneliness and homesickness strike; her mother reminded her to look at the sea. “She says if you miss us, just look at the sea as we are all connected through the sea and part of the vast body of water is our hometown, General Santos City’.

The only female at sea

Mariam’s day starts her eight-hour shift by checking the engine and maintenance of various machines, checking the engine oil to looking at the sewage system. Things can be difficult at times, but her determination fuels her strength to soldier on.

Many of her male colleagues have become her mentors and some have become father figures. When heavy lifting tasks are to be done, Mariam observes that the men try to free her of the hard labour ‘the moment I see a heavy pile needing to be carried to another area, I make sure I grab it fast to show them that I am not fragile and can do the heavy lifting too.’

Eight-hour working day

As a cadet Mariam is restricted to an eight-hour working day, her duties would start with checking the engine, to cleaning tasks like changing oil to checking on the sewerage system.

Her eagerness to learn is driven by her goal to become a full-pledged engineer.

‘My current goal is to become a chief engineer and be one day be able to assist and support and protect the rights of women at sea.’

Mariam says while undeniably the status of women in the sector has progressed in recent years, ‘there are still a lot of challenges when it comes to women working in the maritime sector and work alongside the men as well; because they also share some of our concerns when in comes to life onboard the ship.’

Home away from home

While Mariam has spent a greater part of the year away from her home, places like The Mission to Seafarers-Victoria
provide refuge, a calming and loving welcome to an unfamiliar land. They also assist in ensuring that the welfare and life of the seafarer on board are well taken cared of.

Small gestures like providing toiletries and reading materials make a difference, especially when seafarers have very limited time to shop for their personal needs. ‘For a woman at sea like me, as an engine cadet receiving toiletries as a gift make a huge difference. The books have been the best gift of all as I love to read. Today my personal collection, library consists of books I have collected from various Mission to Seafarers I have visited.’ shares 22-year-old engine cadet.

Her life at sea has brought her to many ports around the globe and places like The Mission to Seafarers-Victoria, which help provide support and security gives her the assurance that a home can be found anywhere in the world.