Safe Horizons: Pain Points for Women at Sea

May 21, 2024 – Rotterdam – Our logo is a modern image of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. When you look closely, you will observe that Poseidon looks firm to his ocean, seeing a red floater symbolizing the human element. Mistakes or misbehaviours by human beings can spoil his ocean, but also, they are the only ones who can work on improving it. Very importantly, Poseidon also looks at the humans on board, the seafarers themselves.

Insight from data

May 18 every year presents an opportunity to celebrate International Day for Women in Maritime. Today, we would like to spotlight a report released by the Global Maritime Forum conducted by the All Aboard Alliance in April 2023. The report identified 15 key pain points for women at sea.

The first being the difficulty of succeeding professionally at sea for women (i.e., being perceived as less competent than male coworkers, not having equal access to training or tasks on board and having to outperform male peers to get respected or promoted).

The report also identified how social relations on board can be especially challenging for women at sea (i.e., feeling isolated or unsupported because of their gender, the concern of gossip or rumours, or power abuse or sexual harassment and sexual misconduct on board).

The report also revealed that there are systemic employment challenges at sea (i.e., service contracts at sea being too long, lack of family planning options such as maternity leave or sea-shore rotation programs, resulting in many women having to choose between a career at sea or starting a family, in turn pushing women seafarers to find employment elsewhere, and finally, many companies still not willing to recruit women seafarers).

Finally, the report revealed the physical conditions on board (i.e., lack of access to female sanitary products on board or lack of access to adequately fitted Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as boiler suits, fire gloves, etc., or lack of access to designated women’s changing rooms, bathrooms, etc. on board).

The first Women in Maritime Survey released by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2021 found that women make up just 2% of seafarers globally, only 14% of staff occupying core roles in the maritime industry are female, and the overwhelming majority of seafarers at the time of the survey remain men; but they are being recruited and trained by women.

What we are doing to stem these pain points

These findings are disturbing. One of the important checklists of our certification program for seagoing shipping has is diversity and equal opportunities. We assess if there is confidential reporting procedures for instances of harassment and discrimination in place and measure the awareness level of personnel on board.

We investigate the presence and effective implementation of policies related to equal opportunities, equality and diversity, inclusion, anti-discrimination, and anti-harassment.

We also inquire whether the vessel employs women seafarers in positions ranging from officers to ratings. We examine whether the ship is equipped with specific facilities tailored for women seafarers, including feminine hygiene products and separate disposal facilities, dedicated washrooms with sanitary amenities, appropriately sized safety and protective clothing designed for specific genders, and access to medical supplies without the need to consult male colleagues.

Urgent actions

Some progress has been made to deepen gender equality in the industry, but we can certainly do much more.

As WISTA International once said when carrying out their first women in Maritime survey, “data is key. It is the knowledge from which we can create positive change”.

The result of these survey is not intended to shame us gives a basis and a mirror to look from, see gaps and take deliberate and urgent action to fill.

As we mark this year’s International Day of Women in Maritime, we call on stakeholders to walk the talk on gender equality and inclusion because only then can we safely navigate the horizon, for humanity and for our environment.