Captian Balekana Overcomes Challenges

Seafaring is a physically demanding job that is supposedly more suited to men. Today most women seafarers are hired in cruise ships and ferries, and very few get to rise
09 Nov 2016 11:34
Captian Balekana Overcomes Challenges

Seafaring is a physically demanding job that is supposedly more suited to men.

Today most women seafarers are hired in cruise ships and ferries, and very few get to rise to other ranks.

It is a fact that in Fiji, the seafaring industry remains male-dominated but it is slowly changing.

Some women have risen to be in command as ship captains.

One of them is Captain Susana Balekana who hails from Wailevu village, Kadavu. She is the daughter of former Education Officer, the late Panapasa Balekana.

At present Captain Sue (as she is commonly known as) is currently with the barge Qio Ni Laucala.

Last year she received a Certificate of Recognition of Women in the Shipping Industry by the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji (MSAF).

Captain Sue said having studied and served in the shipping industry for 19 years, she has overcome all challenges in her career because of her faith and passion.

Appreciative of the recognition, she encourages young girls who want to take up seafaring to take that leap of faith.

While she says that the experience is hard, where women tend to face all possible kinds of discrimination, it is one that can be repressed through one’s sacrifice and hard work. Captain Sue completely agrees that life of a seafarer is not a bed of roses. It is challenging, mentally and physically.

“Women seafarers face many difficulties and hardships but trust yourself and have the courage to face your fears. If you have an unconquerable will to win, victory will never be denied. Every job has its positive and negative aspects. It is the positive ones we must reflect upon,” she said.

She added that if a man had to work thrice as hard to prove himself, a woman had to work ten times harder.

“When I work on the ship, I never think of it as a man’s world. I work on owning it and work on overcoming that challenge. Today, I am used to it and that is exactly what other women should do. Everyday has been a learning day.” Working on-board ships is fun and challenging at the same time for her learns more about the work.

As captain she does not want to be treated like a princess in the vessel.

Eight crews work under her including another woman, Dolsey Savaita who is a deck hand.

According to Wikipedia a deckhand normally stands watch for 12 hours each day with the watch broken into two 6-hour watches: the forward watch (6:00 AM to Noon and 6:00 PM to Midnight) or the after watch (Noon to 6:00 PM and Midnight to 6:00 AM). Sometimes a deckhand will stand the square watch, which is from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, or be an extra person to help make locks.

When a deckhand is off duty, it is their responsibility to get adequate sleep and rest so they are capable of working safely and efficiently when required. A deckhand may be requested to return to a boat during their scheduled time off if an emergency occurs.

Captain Susana enrolled with the School of Maritime Studies at the Fiji Institute of Technology in 1997, served her sea time as a cadet on various local vessels such as the MV Temauri, MV Bulou Ni Ceva and MV Reef Escape, before she completed her cadet with the Islands Salvage & Towage Ltd, PNG. Islands Salvage & Towage Limited PNG later employed her after she graduated from the Fiji Institute of Technology.

In 2002, she graduated with a Certificate in Deck Apprentice and in 2006 with Diploma in Nautical Science (Watch keeper) & Diploma in Ship Operations. She took up her first command as a Master in December 25, 2004, in PNG with Islands Salvage and Towage Limited. During this period, she was given the opportunity to sail into international waters. She sailed to Singapore, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Noumea and the Solomon Islands.

She served seven years as a Master in PNG and holds a Certificate of Competency Class 3 Master/Watch keeper issued by the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji.

In 2012, she returned to Fiji and joined Bligh Water Shipping Company as Chief Officer on both MV Westerland and MV Suilven.

In the same year, she joined Tidewater Marine as Chief Officer on their offshore supply vessel D’Souza Tide and Redel Tide and as a 2nd Officer on Reef Express from 2012 to 2013 before she joined Pacific Marines & Civil Solutions as Chief Officer and later as Master.

Captain Sue was employed by Douglas Salvage & Towage Ltd as Tug Master which is based in Honiara, Solomon Islands in the last six months.

She has represented Fiji at the Regional Conference on the Development of a Global Strategy for Women Seafarers Conference in Busan, South Korea 2013.

Captain Sue is planning to further her studies overseas on shipping management in the next three years.

For the future she wants to set up her own business after her overseas studies.

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