Coming head on with some of nature’s toughest elements, female sailors told Toluwalope Kareem the dangers they deal with on daily basis in the line of duty
There are few people in the world today that can boast of fulfilling their childhood dream. One of such persons is Titlayo Aderemi, a 32-year-old sea farer. Now a captain of a big vessel, she has been embarking on dangerous journeys across different waters over the last 10 years in the course of doing her job as a sailor. For her, embarking on such risk is more than a dream come true even though her father always wanted her to be a medical doctor. She lives every moment, grateful to God for the grace to achieve such feat.
“Being a sailor is more than a dream coming true for me,” she told our correspondent during a recent encounter. “As a child, I remember always acting like a captain while playing with my sisters. We would hold our waists tightly pretending to be on a ship and sailing. We would even make sounds with our mouths to make it look like we were on the sea. It was fun back then but I never knew this was indeed what God wanted me to do. I am happy to have been able to achieve this,” she added quickly.
But as happy as Aderemi is, working on the sea these past 10 years has not been completely smooth. In different forms and sizes, the young lady has come up against all sorts of dangers – some enough to frighten even a heart made of steel out of the profession.
“My eyes have indeed seen a lot of evils on the sea,” she said. “Though there is so much fun working on a ship, the dangers can many times scare you back to land.
“My first trial was an oil tanker vessel; I had to join the ship at sea. We were conveyed by a speed boat to the vessel and I had to climb a scaler. That was where I became scared.
“Another thing was that I was the only female among about 20 men in the first two vessels I worked with. Though the men saw me as one of them, there were times I would get scared by the fact that I was the only female among them. It was a very tough period for me.
“There were times I felt really depressed and wished I could run home. The thought of not seeing my loved ones again often created fear in me in those periods. These were times that the sound of the sea created fear in you.
“Apart from the fury of the sea, there is also the menace of pirates on water. I remember a particular day when our ship was hijacked by these bad guys. I was scared and hid in the toilet for more than 48 hours. I thought I was going to die that day. Eventually, we were freed from their hands.
“During rainy season, the sea is usually very rough and the ship stands the risk of falling overboard if not careful.
“There is also the issue of fire outbreak or the vessel hitting a rock and tearing underneath. The truth is that the sea is a very harsh place and one has to be fully aware and alert at all times so as to avert disaster,” she explained.
Though now married, Capt. Aderemi told Saturday PUNCH that one of the low sides of being a female seafarer is the difficulty in keeping a stable relationship. According to her, many ladies doing her kind of job usually find it tough maintaining relationships that can lead to marriage as a result of their long period away from home.
“As a result of our kind of job, we are usually away from home for a long period of time. “Before I got married last year, keeping a serious and stable relationship was usually very difficult. Whenever I tried to get involved in any relationship, they gave excuses that they wouldn’t be able to cope because they wouldn’t see me for a long period of time. It was quite tough.”
When asked how she has been able to balance her home with her job now, she said, “It’s not been easy. For now, I have been at sea for two months but while I was single, I used to stay longer. However, because of my husband, I try to go home every two months to be with him.
“There are days I really miss him and wish to hear his voice but due to poor connectivity at sea, it is difficult to make calls and browse the Internet.
“However, whenever I get the opportunity, I call him or we do video chat. Whenever I am not able to reach him, I just pray for his safety before going to bed. It is only by God’s grace that one can keep a stable home with this kind of job we do,” she said.
Like Aderemi, Capt. Sylvia Okafor is another young lady that has chosen the dangerous route of ekeing out a living on sea. A graduate of Biochemistry, she abandoned her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to pursue a career in seafaring when she realised she wasn’t very good at physics – one of the key requirements for fulfilling such pursuit. Though she has since embraced her new life on water, the dangers, she reckoned, sometimes strike fear into her heart.
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“I was inspired to take up this career path after coming in contact with one Indian captain while on training during a scholarship programme.
“My experience on water has been tough. I get a lot of discouragement from people, they tell me I am into a job that should be for men. Many of such persons have tried to talk me out of the job but I don’t listen to them.
“When going offshore, I always prepare myself for the dangers that are likely to occur. Most people say to me that I am brave and that is because I don’t think of the negative part.
“I am more optimistic. There was a time I was going offshore and the sea was very high, we just had to cope. A lot of people threw up and all. I had sea sickness drugs with me, so I used them and felt better.
“The truth is that due to the kind of job I do, it has not been easy for me to keep a stable relationship. Trying to start something has been a little bit challenging but I know that I will definitely find my husband one day.
“The last few years have been filled with dangers and uncertainty in every sense especially considering the type of job I do,” she said.
If not for the priceless support of her husband, Engr. Bassey Esiri’s life could have been more complicated today going by the kind of danger she faces while sailing on sea. On board for most part of the year, the mother of two has learnt to reduce her time away from home at a stretch to only one month these days. According to her, this new strategy has helped her recover well from the strain of working on deep and stormy waters that has been a staple of her job as seafarer.
“I came into this job wanting to prove to not a few people and indeed the world that women can succeed in this very difficult terrain.
“I was almost discouraged by some people while I was coming into the profession but I soon made up my mind that it was what I wanted to do. Even my husband didn’t like the idea at the time as a result of the dangers associated with the job.
“However, with time he supported me and today, he is one of my biggest fans. In fact, he takes care of the home whenever I am away at sea coming up against all sorts of risks.
“There are days that the storm would be so harsh that we would all fear that the ship was going to capsize and sink. Though I have never encountered pirates on sea before, I have faced all manner of uncertain situation while on water. It is by God’s grace that we come out of such situations at times,” she said.
Lured into the profession by her brother, Aliya Badejo, an engineer, has had a thrilling eight years on sea. Though Computer Engineering was her passion until seafaring was introduced to her, she has not had any reason to regret so far apart from the occasional fear that envelopes her when face to face with danger on sea. While narrating her experience in a recent chat with Saturday PUNCH, the 33-year-old described the journey so far as one filled with pains and gains.
“My experience as a female sailor has been wonderful,” she said. “But when you look at the discrimination from people and dangers we sometimes face while on sea, you’ll know that it’s not all rosy.
“We face a lot of discrimination. Some feel threatened because we are females; they expect us to be in the kitchen or at home. They try to bring you down by all means because you are a female in the profession.
“When you go to some companies, despite seeing all your certification, they still treat you badly. This shouldn’t be this way.
“As a person, I have never been scared of water. I wasn’t nervous on my first trial because it was already part of my training. But there have been situations that have really shaken one’s spirit in the course of this journey.
“There was a time pirates attacked our ship and we had to hide at a very dangerous part of the ship where the blade of the engine compartment could have sliced us to pieces. We thought we were going to die but the Navy rescued us.”
Like the others before her, the Ogun State-born lady confirmed that it was almost like a tug of war keeping a stable relationship while working on sea.
“It is really tough,” she explained. “You meet good guys but before long their patience wanes. They feel you are just wasting their time especially when you can’t see each other for months.
“I have lost quite a few relationships this way but I am hoping for things to change soon because I know I am not getting younger. Money is not the issue; the problem is having the time to keep the fire of such feeling burning. For many of us in this profession, it is indeed a tough life,” she added.
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