Carla Chamorro has just completed the rigorous training necessary to become a RISQ Inspector. She’s one of seven people on the inhouse RightShip team, joining a cohort of 122 across the globe. With big changes being brought through on the way RightShip conducts inspections, it’s a challenging and exciting time to be on the team.
We consider how diverse hiring policies - particularly those encouraging more women to develop careers within the industry - allow different viewpoints and contrasting perspectives to surface, at a time when maritime, like many other sectors, faces steep recruitment challenges.
How did you start working in the maritime industry – and what do you love most about it?
My father is a doctor who worked in the Port of Tarragona, Spain, attending the seafarers who came ashore with various illnesses and ailments and providing radio support from ashore to the vessels. The importance of that work and their gratitude towards what he did made a big impression on me.
One of the things I love most is being onboard a ship - but until a couple of weeks’ ago, I’d not set foot on a vessel in about five years, thanks to having an onshore job, followed by the pandemic. However, at the end of April 2022, I went to Ghent in Belgium as part of my RISQ Inspector training. I had never been aboard a bulk carrier before, but it was a brilliant experience. Going up on board was like coming home, the Master, the crew and the company representative were very welcoming.
As a visitor onboard, what you must remember is that for months on end, the ship you are inspecting is everyone’s second home. You have a doctor, an engineer, a chef – and the master, of course. Being there is like walking around your own little town. The vessel is like your neighbourhood or, as some say, ‘your lady’. You take care of her, you keep her safe, secure and well-equipped. And as the Inspector, I have my role in keeping her that way too.
In Ghent, I joined Captain Romina Perrone, a qualified inspector, who took me all around the vessel, (pictured) showing me what I needed to look out for, reminding me of how to ask the questions to complete the inspection correctly. It was such a valuable experience from such a professional and well-qualified Captain.
The latest report from Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) / International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) contains some pretty shocking stats on women at sea – notably that despite a 46% increase since 2015, that still only means women make up just over 1% of the workforce. Do you have any ideas why this is?
Life at sea is not always easy. Traditionally it is seen as a very male role. When I told my mum and grandma that I wanted to go to become a mariner they tried to talk me out of it. My grandma told me how worrying it is to be relative of a seafarer, always thinking about them at the mercy of the ocean, unable to get in touch, not knowing what is going on, and whether they are safe.
But it’s not like that so much now. In 2016, the United Nations resolved that access to the internet should be considered a basic human right. It’s not something that’s questioned on land, but at sea it can feel even more important when you are separated from your loved ones. That familiar face on the phone can be all it takes to turn a bad day into a good one.
I’m also pleased to say that I changed my grandmother’s mind about my profession – when I took her onboard the ship where I was training when we were docked in Barcelona. I gave her the full tour! She was immensely proud of me. There’s an expression – if you see it, you can be it – and I think that’s important, too. Other women will see me, doing a job I love, and know they could do it too.
Do you have any suggestions on how the maritime industry could make change happen to encourage more women?
I think that communication is absolutely the most important thing. I once had a situation on board a vessel where I was working as the Second Officer.
When you get on board a vessel, you have to set up a hierarchy, a common working language - as the crew is made up of lots of different nationalities. You discuss topics openly, like which food is best for everyone.
But what we didn’t talk about was the basic niceties of life related to women and culture. In addition, the professional guidelines that might seem obvious in an office situation - where men and women have rubbed shoulders for the last 20, 30, 50 years - are not that obvious at sea. Some of the men I’ve come across in my career had never seen a woman at sea before or worked alongside us. They’d never had to think about whether they should make rude jokes, or wear a shirt, or say good morning.
I think it’s so important – without being patronising – to lay out these basic guidelines. On one particular vessel, I found after just a few days on board, that some of the crew seemed to be blanking me. I didn’t know what I’d done and as a new Second Officer I instantly assumed it was me, that I’d offended them in some way. I went to another crew member for advice, and they acted as a liaison between us.
It turned out that this crew members believed that, because I was a woman that they did not know well, it was not respectful to speak to me without my express permission. I wasn’t a family member, or their wife or sister, so not talking to me was a sign of deference, and in line with many of their beliefs It was such a mix up! They needed to be reassured that saying good morning to me was a positive, pleasant thing to do. But if I hadn’t turned to that other crew member for advice, I might have spent my whole experience worrying and letting the situation fester. Good communication was, and remains, essential.
Finally, on International Women in Maritime Day, what would you say that RightShip’s role is in encouraging equality and diversity?
First, I think that the Crew Welfare Assessment that RightShip launched in partnership with the Sustainable Shipping Initiative and the Institute for Human Rights and Business will make a real difference to all seafarers, but female seafarers in particular. The Assessment is voluntary – encompassing 51 questions that establish how the crew of a vessel are being treated, and how the person completing the questionnaire considers that they are doing in terms of providing the necessities of life to those on board.
But this is just step one. Those leading organisations who complete the form voluntarily are putting themselves out there. They’re saying ‘look at us, we’re confident that we are a good place to work’. From this follows a situation where people who want to work in the maritime industry start to notice and say – ‘Ship manager x only hires for people who’ve completed the RightShip crew welfare survey. They must be confident they are a good and fair place to work.’
Again, this has an impact. According to the same report referenced earlier, if current recruiting practices don’t change, by 2026, the maritime industry will be short 26,000 employees. Life at sea has got to be made fair – and appealing – to a wider range of candidates, many of whom could quite comfortably remain sat behind their desks, at home, with no intention of moving.
So, the advice I’m giving also includes RightShip, and others in the maritime industry that recruit for ‘shore based’ positions.
We are consciously seeking more women to join the RightShip family – moving towards a more equal gender balance. But we can also consider our recruitment processes carefully. Is the language that we use in our job adverts welcoming to all genders? Are we considering the possible roadblocks in people’s careers – like returning to shore to have a family? How do we make it easier for people to return to sea, if they need to gain more experience to apply for roles like vetting inspector?
These are all questions that I know RightShip is considering as part of its own Environmental Social Governance journey to zero harm in the maritime industry.