Last February 2018, Seaman Memories had an exclusive online interview with a seawoman, Miss Hiroka. She is the first female Deck Officer in a Japanese Chemical Tanker ship.
She told us how she conquered her profession which has been dominated by men since the beginning of time.
Like everyone on board, Hiroka knows how difficult our life at sea is. Working on a tanker alone is no joke but a seawoman on a chemical tanker? I can say she’s got guts as much as the bravest sailor out there.
But she is very focused on fulfilling her dreams. Today, Hiroka is sailing as a Second Officer. She is one of the very few sea women conquering uncharted waters in this industry.
Hiroka wants to inspire the younger generations, especially the females out there, not to give up.
Here are my questions and a glimpse of her life that we can all learn from.
What is your present position on board?
I’m working as a Second Officer in an ocean-going Oil and Chemical Tanker.
My main job is to manage electronic charts (ECDIS) and make passage plans. I’m also in charge of the hospital including medicine inventories.
Navigation and watch duties, plotting positions and star sights, recording important events in log books and bell books, and checking navigational equipment are also some of the many jobs I do.
In port, I do cargo watch duties for loading, discharging, ballasting, and de-ballasting all according to the Chief Officer’s plan.
I’m frequently in contact with the Loading Master and Surveyor especially if C/O is busy.
How did you find this company?
I did job hunting when I was just a student and searched many shipping companies as well as visited their offices.
I got interested in applying to a Chemical Tanker company because they are very rare here in Japan. Also, I felt a very good atmosphere in their office during my visit.
How do you like the company?
The relationships between our vessel and the company’s office staff are very close. We have a a multinational crew on board even in our shore office.
In our ship, the atmosphere is always bright and happy. Almost all of our crew are from the Philippines.
When I was still starting out as an apprentice, I was their student. They taught me very well and I learned a lot from them during that time.
Now that I’m promoted as an officer, my position changed and I have become their teacher.
Moreover, I pay close attention to the culture of our crew because we come from different countries and practice various beliefs.
What is the most difficult part of being a seawoman that you have experienced?
I can say by my experience, that the first vessel is the hardest and the most difficult for me. I had to make a transition from the life on land to the life at sea. It was not easy.
There was also a portion of my career that did not touch any vessel for more than 24 months.
I was not on board for more than two years due to my master’s course at graduation school. It’s like a part of me went blank during that time.
Sealife is hard, especially during your adjustment period. You have to study many things particularly cargoes and deck lines. I guess many Japanese maritime schools do not teach so much about cargo.
What will you do when you are promoted to higher positions?
I want to learn more and more because being a good officer is a journey of continuous learning. There are so many things that I must study while performing the second mate’s job.
Now, I have a firm focus on going to higher positions anytime. When I become a Chief Mate or a Captain someday, I want my ship to have a good atmosphere of proper teamwork, knowledge sharing, and helping each other. I want to be a “bridge” that connects multinational crew!
What is your advice or comment for the younger generations or the “dreamers” who are interested in getting a career at sea?
Seafaring is one of the hardest and most special works out there. The first vessel is usually the most challenging and uncomfortable.
You have to adjust to life at sea even if you are used to living much of your existence on land.
I also hope Japanese seafarers will increase more and more, especially those who have dreams of working on any type of ship.
For the dreamers, the very first advice that I can give you is to study the English language before going on ships. English is the normal way of communication on ocean-going vessels.
Lastly, I advise everyone to cultivate a healthy relationship with one another. We must understand and respect each other’s culture.
I wish for your dreams to come true!
Hiroka Suzuki just got promoted to Second Officer rank a few months ago. She was a Third Officer during Seaman Memories’ first interview with her last February 2018.
A fun fact:
Hiroka finished his maritime education at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Graduation Technology.
She loves to travel in and out of Japan on her vacation. During her free time on board, she loves to paint about nature.
She also wants to inspire other ladies out there to take this course and become a seawoman like her.
May the winds be in your favor