A Woman On Board

Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, CEO at TOTOTHEO MARITIME & President at WISTA International

Shipping historically has been a male-oriented industry. Indeed, hard work at sea and equally hard port service required strong arms. Nevertheless, the XXI century is witnessing the rapid progress of technology as well as views as to where a woman may work. Shipping has also become more flexible. Today a woman captain/chief engineer/CEO of a shipping company cannot surprise the global community. Especially in developed countries.

But at the same time, some prejudices keep the maritime industry in a gender imbalance. Of course, the main reason is that not every girl decides to choose such a dangerous and difficult trade. But if a girl decides – she has a high probability of being harassed.

Empowering Women in the Maritime Community” has been selected as the World Maritime Day theme for 2019. In such a way IMO has been making a concerted effort to support the participation of women in both shore-based and sea-going posts. Nowadays women represent only 2 % of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers. According to IMO, gender equality promotes economic growth, companies with more women in top management perform better.

In this regard, The Maritime Telegraph appealed to the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA International), a global organisation connecting female executives and decision makers around the world. Formed in 1974, the Association promotes gender balance in the maritime, trading and logistics spheres. All industries should be open to anyone who wants to work there.

WISTA International is led by Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, the national advocate for the European Commission’s “Equality Pays Off” Initiative and the Honorary Fellow of the Cyprus Institute of Marketing. She is also proclaimed as “Top Professional” and “Cyprus Business Woman of the Year” at the 9th National Cyprus Business Woman of the Year Awards 2015.

As the founder of WISTA Cyprus Mrs. Panayiotou Theodosiou, of all people, knows about women’s issues in the shipping industry.

“Historically there certainly were professions that were notably “labelled” male or female,” she commented. “Clearly these traditional notions are still visible in society today, but they are changing. In the maritime industry most of the roles were occupied and, in many cases, only made available for men. Seafarers were seamen, not seawomen, that word has never existed really. Moreover, business leaders were men. For centuries there were expectations on women that prevented them from either pursuing these careers or remaining in them.

However, things are changing as you know, and we see women engaging and fulfilling roles in a growing range of professions. Yes, there is still a lot of fear-based repression, but attitudes are changing, especially as a new generation of enlightened men and women join the workforce.”

Specifically for seagoing jobs, on board today’s vessels there is nothing that a man can do that a woman cannot. Mrs. Panayiotou Theodosiou considers, it is a matter of culture and attitude of those already onboard and in the manning offices. However, there needs to be training and awareness of existing crews, as well as a grassroots awareness of the opportunities for young women leaving schools.

“We should not be looking at if professions are male or female oriented, but if the person we hire to do the job is capable and knowledgeable.”

Also, she noted, IMO has made this a year that focuses on the principles of Goal 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To that end it has made this year’s maritime day theme revolve around gender discrimination and women at sea, and the day of the seafarer in June also focused on each one of us taking a moment to look at what we can do to reduce discrimination. 

“We need to promote the profession to the younger generation; both girls and boys,” stated Mrs. Panayiotou Theodosiou. “As an industry we cannot afford to exclude half the population from the seafaring profession. Countries that are aware of this have begun to recruit more women. The percentages are small, but they are increasing. Women are part of the international picture when it comes to recruiting enough seafarers to meet future demand.”


Henry Ford said: “If it’s hard for you, then you climb the mountain. If you’re easy, then you’re flying to the abyss.”

A path to your dream really seems overwhelming. If you dream of working at sea, you must be ready to climb your mountain without a break day and night. It is hard to predict what you will see on the top.

Veronika Morozova, 2nd Officer & ECDIS Instructor

Veronika Morozova is sure, the path you followed is more valuable than any end result. She told us, what challenges has she faced on her way.

“Choosing the maritime profession, I assumed that it might not be easy. Even being a child, I liked to overcome difficulties, so I decided I could handle it too. The first obstacles appeared even before I came onboard for the first time.

Looking for employment, I visited many crew agencies. And I often received such reply: “Sorry, we don’t employ women”. Some of them even didn’t let me fill in the application form. After a while, I realized that in Ukraine this situation is normal.

Few years ago, when I was studying at the Odessa Maritime Academy (NU “OMA”), a very large and respected container shipowner requested 10 cadets regarding their cadet program. The Academy shortlisted the best candidates on their opinion, and there were three ladies, including me. The company immediately replied: “No, we are going to employ only male candidates”.

After a while, I began to lose hope regarding the employment on board. I was even thinking to obtain a stewardess position, to see the maritime life from inside, despite the Navigator’s Diploma. I was refused many times, so when V.Ships Shipping Company offered me a cadet position, I couldn’t believe in this at first. Thus, I started working in the merchant fleet, on Handymax to be more exact.

Being on the ship, I was delighted with just the fact that I was finally here. I was filled with enthusiasm. But quite often expectation and reality don’t match each other”. One of the first tasks was a bucket, a mop and a deck cleaning. To my shame, I have to say that till that moment I have never done much cleaning. So, washing ship portholes without smudges, didn’t work out very good at first. At that time, I often called home, spending huge money on telephone service. All the time there were thoughts in my head like “Why am I here?”, “Why didn’t I choose the Faculty of Humanities like normal women?”.

But there were good days as well. For example, the watch 00-04 / 12-16 with the Second Officer Volodymyr. He trained me a lot, explained about route planning, manual updates, cargo handling, etc. We were a good team. About in the middle of my contract, Volodymyr signed off and his reliever Artem came on board. Relationship with Artem was nothing like my friendship with Volodymyr. Again and again he said only “do not touch” and “back off.” One day on the watch, he stated me something like: “Everybody knows why you came here- to find a rich husband”. Then I understood what he was really thinking about me. I said: “If I were looking for a rich husband seafarer, for sure I would choose another faculty, not navigation.” After that contract, our paths have never crossed.

Over the years, I realised that team building depends on crew members, not on their nationality, age, gender or mentality. If I were a shipowner, I would employ several women on a cargo ship to balance the crew slightly. I guess that such way would give women more confidence in men’s society and would avoid unnecessary conflicts.

From the beginning my dream was perceived not as a woman, but as an equal employee, no matter of gender, age or nationality. Later, when I changed the fleet and started working on cruise ships, this dream came true. In 2016, I was employed by TUI Cruises, a joint venture between TUI AG and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Being already a Junior Officer, two months later I was promoted to a 3rd Officer. I was assigned to “Mein Schiff 3” with mixed crew. None of crew members gave me slacks just because I am a woman. I was fulfilling my exact duties and I liked it!

A few years later, being the 2nd Officer already, I decided to change something in my life and to find an ashore job. After some period of searching, I found the offer from Epsilon Odessa, who were looking for a crew manager in their staff. Requirements: 1-year experience in the office or as an officer on the vessel. That was exactly what I needed, so I applied for this job at once.

And after a short period of work already in the office, I got an offer to take the place of the ECDIS Instructor in Epsilon Odessa Training Center. The Instructor must hold the License of Navigator, as required, so my candidacy was well qualified for this position. I agreed, although at the beginning it was a bit scary because I understood that I will train Senior Officers and Masters. 

Quite often I can see perplexity on seafarer’s faces when I come into the ECDIS training room, and the most common question “Are you our Instructor?”. “Let’s go onboard with us as the 2nd Officer,” from time to time I hear this phrase from some Masters. And if I answer that I have already worked as the 2nd Officer, they look at me like very surprising.

If a seafarer comes to our training center to obtain knowledge, he shouldn’t care about male or female instructor he has. I like to conduct courses and to work in the training center. I’m completely satisfied with my position for today, just wonder what the future held for me.”