Kenya: First Female Marine Pilot Narrates Nightmare Rise in Boys' Club

Elizabeth Marami Kenya’s first female marine pilot.

Elizabeth Marami made history by becoming Kenya's first female marine pilot but the journey was not as easy as many may think.

Born and raised in the coastal city of Mombasa, Marami had initially studied law at the University of Nairobi. She later opted to pursue navigation in Alexandria, Egypt for five years.

Her job as a marine pilot entails assisting vessels find their way into Kenya's territorial waters. According to law, vessels entering a country's territorial waters may not progress to the harbor without officials.

On Tuesday, she took to social media and narrated her journey in a male-dominated industry.

She said; "Every new day comes a new experience and lesson".

"I have had those who have accepted me, helped me become better, and there have been some rejections that stung so hard I almost gave up, but overall I'd say I have certainly grown a thick skin."

In a long thread on Twitter, she recalled how she almost gave up on her dream and the challenges she had to overcome to reach the top.

According to Ms Marima, in 2009, she embarked on the journey that changed her life for good.

"You see, when you pioneer, your priorities shift, it's no longer about you but how you will make that space a better place for generations to come."

First step was for everyone to get an opportunity to get the same qualification in Kenya, I studied in Egypt (2009) because at that time Kenya was not mandated to offer the courses that would be internationally recognized by International Maritime Organization. (Blacklist)

-- Elizabeth Marami (@lizmarami) May 14, 2019

Efforts were made and many worked tirelessly until a curriculum was developed and the Merchant shipping act revised. In 2010, Kenya became white listed by International Maritime organization to offer internationally recognized STCW. Kenyans train in Kenya and work internationally.

Problem was getting placement on ships. Yes they could train but where would they work?! Kenya had a National shipping line (KNSL) but with no ships!

P.S (STCW - standards of training, certification and watchkeeping)

-- Elizabeth Marami (@lizmarami) May 14, 2019

"I came home in 2014 with my 1st license but could not progress even as a pilot because I needed to attain my next license (1st Officer) so I remained a trainee pilot! This could only be change/achieved if I worked on a ship as a 3rd/2nd Officer for 12 months," Marami adds.

I walked from door to door to different shipping companies for 3 years to get placement, I got turned down severally because of gender and as time went by, age. I watched my male colleagues progress as they got placement in a company that rejected me because I was female.

-- Elizabeth Marami (@lizmarami) May 14, 2019

"I must admit, I had days I questioned my purpose, then I remembered the young girl/boy who had enrolled in Bandari Maritime College and will not be able to get their 1st placement as a cadet to attain their first license and it was heart-breaking! This became my driving force."

In 2017, a company offered her an opportunity as a cadet and she took it up with the hope that all she needed was "to prove herself to get promoted and work as a 3rd deck Officer which would count my months of experience to attain the next license".

"After 6 months and a promotion recommendation, I went back for my next contract just to be turned down by the shipping company that they had been asked to end all PR relations with Kenya. I was back to square 1. The 6 months on board didn't even count because I served as a cadet!"

I got the opportunity of joining their new build ships that set sail in March for a 9 month contract but as a cadet with hope that this time I'll get promoted so that my sea time can actually count.

-- Elizabeth Marami (@lizmarami) May 14, 2019

"I'm an example that promotion is guaranteed! The plight of lack of placement for Kenyan seafarers will be ended and with a set up recruitment agency by MSC this opens doors to all Kenyans - but the deal must smoothly go through."

09.05.2019, 2 months after the ship's inauguration, the Captain called me and informed me that I could end my contract on my preferred date and re-embark on my next availability as 3rd deck Officer. MSC finally gave me an opportunity that was denied to me regardless of gender!

-- Elizabeth Marami (@lizmarami) May 14, 2019

"What I had fought for so long had come to pass and during the inauguration when the owner told me he hoped to employ more Kenyans, I had no doubt that this will come to pass."

Now MSC not only own cargo ships but cruise ships and by 2026 9 new build ships and 4 luxury cruise ships that translates to over 10,000 job opportunities guaranteed for Kenyan seafarers.

-- Elizabeth Marami (@lizmarami) May 14, 2019

She says that on cruise ships, job opportunities are vast and don't necessarily require high end skills, from housekeeping, garbage collectors, cleaners, waiters, bartenders, entertainers, shop sellers, casino dealers, receptionists, bartenders etc with the least being paid $750-900, with promotion guaranteed.

"Mind you, you have accommodation on the ship and food is provided so you end your contract with your salary intact! And in forex!

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