Skills development

Indonesian student embarks on her dream of becoming a ship’s captain

Women remain underrepresented in the maritime sector, but a female Indonesian maritime student is charting new territory as she joins an international cargo ship for a year-long training.

News | 29 June 2022
Melati Rahmawati . ©ILO
(ILO News)—As a third-year nautical science student at Indonesia’s Semarang State Maritime Polytechnic or Politeknik Maritim Negeri (Polimarin) Semarang, Melati Rahmawati will become the first female student from the polytechnic to gain an internship in a cargo ship under a leading international shipping company.

For Melati, this is a step closer to realizing her dream of becoming a ship’s captain - a rare job for women in the male-dominated maritime sector.

Coming from a small city in Central Java, Salatiga, Melati decided to pursue studies in nautical science due to her love of geography. When she was in high school, she won a bronze medal in the national geographic Olympics.

“Since then, I have become more interested in geography and want to study further in higher education. Nautical Science involves a lot of geographical knowledge in order to navigate, manage and operate the ship,” she said.

Polimarin has an agreement with Germany’s Hochschule Wismar University, enabling Melati and other students to study at the German institution for six months in their fourth and final year and get a bachelor degree from that university too.

Now that she is in her third year, Melati has to take a job training at a maritime company.

This opportunity will be a stepping stone towards realizing my dream."

Melati Rahmawati, a third-year nautical science student
In April 2022, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), a Germany-based company, scouted talent from Indonesia to join a one-year hands-on training on their bulk carrier, MV Soho Principal. Melati was the only female student from Polimarin to apply and the only student from her school who was selected to join the training.

“I want to be a captain someday. I wish to pursue an international career and become a symbol of national pride. This opportunity will be a stepping stone towards realizing my dream,” she said eagerly.

The recruitment process was quite challenging as applicants must go through several steps including an English test and a Seafarers Enhancement Program (SEP) test and interview – with the entire process conducted in English.

“I did not find it difficult to take the tests and do the interview in English. Prior to applying, I took a Marlins English Test at Polimarin and got 95 out of 100 points,” Melati explained.

The Marlins English Test is an international standard test for seafarers. With support from the Skills for Prosperity Programme in Indonesia (SfP-Indonesia)--implemented by the International Labour Organization and funded by the United Kingdom government--, Polimarin was recently awarded the status of a Marlins Approved Test Centre, allowing the institution to grant students English certification.

“Having good English proficiency is necessary for seafarers, especially for those who want to join international companies where they will work with ship crews from many nations. Moreover, all control panels and manuals are written in English,” said Melati.

Working far away from home for a long time in a male-dominated environment might be challenging for many young women. But Melati views it as an adventure, a new opportunity to upgrade her skills and promote Indonesia as a maritime country. She believes that women have the same capacity as men to conquer the ocean.

“Indonesia is a maritime country with the world’s largest islands and longest coastlines,” she said.

“But China, India and Philippines remain the leaders in the regional maritime sector. This is the time for Indonesia to rise and shine. And I believe that women can play a big role in achieving this goal,” she said.

She will start her journey in July 2022, departing from China and then travelling to India, Bangladesh, Caledonia and many other countries within a year.

Melati is fully aware that working on board a ship could expose her to the risk of discrimination and even violence. However, she feels ready to face any challenge as she is well-equipped with the knowledge and skills to tackle harassment, violence and discrimination at work.

SfP-Indonesia has worked with four Indonesian polytechnic partners, including Polimarin, to improve the equity, quality and relevance of higher level skills training in response to the growing skills demands of the Indonesian maritime sector. This has included the promotion of anti-discrimination and anti-harassment in the maritime industry.

In December 2021, the programme conducted a series of trainings for representatives of the polytechnic partners, the industry and trade unions aiming to reduce harassment and discrimination, and mainstream gender and social inclusion in maritime workplaces.

Mary Kent, SfP-Indonesia Chief Technical Adviser said these measures alongside the positive steps taken by the government and supportive educators, employers and workers representatives will help to remove the barriers to entry and improve maritime working conditions.

Women are hugely under-represented in global maritime workforce, she said. However, diversification in this sector will be critical to Indonesia’s aspiration to become a leading global maritime economy.

Ms Kent added that Melati has shown that Indonesian young women can successfully progress in the competitive world of international seafaring.

She said: “Melati will continue to act as an ambassador and role model for female students at Polimarin, returning to share her journey and experiences as an alumni.”

SfP-Indonesia will continue to work with government, educators, employers and workers to improve access to higher-level skills training, and progression to decent employment in Indonesia’s Blue Economy, she said.

“We will continue to support women like Melati to have equal access to maritime training, education and job opportunities,” said Ms Kent, “and hope that many more young women will be inspired by her example.”