Pioneering woman tells tale of the sea

Local | Lauren Lau 9 Jul 2019

Joanna Kwok Wing-yan made history by becoming the first Hong Kong woman to qualify as a chief engineer on vessels sailing out of the SAR.

Her qualification as chief engineer of seagoing vessels was announced at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum yesterday.

After graduating from a higher diploma program in mechanical engineering at the Vocational Training Council, Kwok, 32, embarked on eight round trips as a mechanical cadet and engineer on vessels such as oil carriers, bulk cargo vessels and container vessels.

"I am incredibly honored to be part of this industry," Kwok said. "Being the first Hong Kong female to receive this qualification, I hope to inspire more youngsters and girls to be a seafarer."

Working in a male-dominated industry, Kwok had to overcome many difficulties to be accepted as part of the crew on a vessel.

"I remember crying on the satellite phone, talking to my parents. It was tough being in a cabin at 50 degrees or higher working on mechanical repairs while being quite vulnerable to motion sickness," Kwok said, reflecting on her experience as a wide-eyed cadet.

"In the beginning I felt like some of my crew members were trying to override my decisions because I was the only female on board. I stood out in terms of nationality and gender as most of my colleagues were Indian and male. They thought I was sent as a spy to monitor their work in the beginning so there were hardships in bonding."

Kwok was the first female to join her ship's company, Anglo-Eastern, more than 10 years ago. But now the company has over 20 female employees.

Pradeep Chawla, chairman of Anglo-Eastern Ship Management Ltd, said: "We have built a buddy system to help crew members get used to life on vessels. Life at sea is not easy, it's common to feel home sick or have physical stress, many males and females shed tears over that."

Kwok spent months training in Mumbai, embarked on trips to Iceland and Norway, and learned management skills in Hong Kong.

Transport sector lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming said: "The government issued an extra HK$200 million in funding to the Maritime and Aviation Training Fund this May, and it will be sufficient to help students economically until 2025."

There are many job openings in the maritime industry, but the fulfillment rate has been low as many youngsters refuse to join the labor-intensive sector.

Sabrina Chao Sih-ming, chairwoman of the Maritime Services Training Board of the Hong Kong Vocational Training Council, said: "We are facing a manpower shortage and an aging workforce in the industry. Many are not aware of the professional qualifications one can reach after joining the industry."

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