It's a man's world? Sheafarers in the shipping industry

Women in seafaring talk about their life and work on board a ship - in a masculine world. Click on their names to read their stories.

Saga Forsman                 Jolanta                 Billur Bahar                 Tamara Gau                 Olga Wantula                 Franka Dam

SHEafarers Olga Wantula

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Olga Wantula
24 years old
Deck Cadet (last rank)
Junior Officer (next rang)
Nationality: Polish

 


When did you start the profession?
I started maritime university in 2015. In 2016 I first went to sea on a school vessel. In 2019 I joined my first commercial vessel.

Why did you decide to become a seafarer?
When I was a teenager, I was very passionate about race sailing and competing in regattas. Unfortunately, I had to give it up for family reasons, but the passion for the sea remained.  When I was in high school and considering my future options, my mother saw a mention on the news about a naval academy in our country. She suggested it as an option for me, so I looked it up and decided to try merchant navy. Although I had very little reliable information on what a seafarers’ life looks like, I have not regretted my decision yet.

Why do you love your job?
For many reasons. The Sea always keeps you on your toes, and it teaches you humility. I get to meet and work with people from every corner of the world, which puts me in a unique position to learn about other cultures. I get to see a very different aspect of the countries I travel to - not only the parts prepped up for tourists, but also the real ones, where people work hard. Working at sea also allows me to cut down on electronics and social media use, which is important nowadays. I get to connect with nature - experience the most breathtaking sunrises, sunsets and see more stars than most people will see in their lifetime.

What is/ was your most dangerous incident onboard?
Fortunately, nothing dangerous happened to me personally. However, once an AB working with me experienced a heart attack. Thankfully we were not far away from the shore, and within one hour, he was evacuated by helicopter and taken to a hospital. He fully recovered. The whole event showed me the importance of drills and having competent people in command to keep the crew from panicking in a stressful situation.

What do you miss the most onboard during a contract?
Hugs ;-)
Of course, I miss my family and friends, but thanks to the internet, we can be in almost constant contact, so it is bearable. I also miss greenery. I love nature, and whenever I am onboard, I long for trees, flowers, parks, forests and all activities that can be done there. Before COVID-19, I took care to visit a park every time I went ashore, even if it was just for a short walk. Unfortunately, during my last contract, shore leaves were not allowed, so I had to manage without them.

Do you see yourself being a feminist?
Absolutely. Although I do feel that this term is often misunderstood today, so I’d like to clarify that what I believe in is that we all deserve equal rights and opportunities.

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Would you support your daughter becoming a seafarer?
Of course. I'll support my children in whatever path they decide to pursue. But I'll also make sure they have as much information about it as possible to make an reasonable decision.

What is the most challenging in a crew for an only female seafarer?
Having to prove that I am as capable as any other seafarer out there. So far, I have had a lot of luck and met some very supportive people. But some did not trust me, no matter how many times I proved them otherwise. It takes a lot of determination to keep working despite a hostile environment, and I know a lot of o women who gave up their careers at sea because of that.

How do you feel of the project of having only-female crews?
I appreciate them for promoting the idea of female seafarers and seafarers’ profession in general, and for proving that female seafarers are equally capable as their male counterparts. However, in everyday work, I feel that diversity of the crew can be a great benefit, both in terms of gender and nationalities. I will always stand for choosing crew based on their merit and not their gender.

What are the advantages?
Is this question about advantages of all-female crews? It’s hard to tell since I’ve never worked within a female crew, but I think the biggest advantage is the publicity it can receive and its’ influence on how women are perceived at sea.

Do you think your experiences aboard can be generalized?
Not really. I think I was quite lucky with the people I worked with, and have faced less issues than some of my friends. Working on board with diverse crews also made me realize my own privileges based on my nationality and race. Some of my male friends have faced a lot of issues I never had to simply because we were born in different parts of the world.

If anybody is interested, you can find out more about Olga's life at Sea on her instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fab_mermaid/
 

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