From Papua New Guinea to Singapore, New Caledonia, Fiji and Australia, five young Papua New Guinean women are following their dreams of becoming future deck officers in the maritime industry – and experiencing new cultures and professional challenges in the process.

The young seafarers are undertaking a three-year maritime cadetship through an innovative partnership between the Australian Government and SteamshipsChina Navigation Company and Pacific Towing.

Glenda Amu, Lyllelah Kunai, Jamie-Lee Baim, Amy-Lee Turia and Irma Rua are five of an overall cohort of 20 female cadets studying to qualify as Officers of the Watch Deck and Officers of the Engine Room, under the Australia Awards Maritime scholarships program for women since 2018.

The scholarships involve study in Papua New Guinea and sponsored international work experience at sea. The Australia Awards Maritime scholarships are contributing to addressing the skills shortage in Papua New Guinea’s transport industry and contributing to positive cultural change in the maritime sector.

They are part of the overall Australia Awards In-PNG Scholarships program, whose awardees develop the knowledge and skills to drive change and to make positive contributions to social and economic development in Papua New Guinea.

The five young women during a recent visit back to Port Moresby, could not contain their excitement about the ports they had visited and experiences they obtained in a recent six-month training block at sea.

Between October 2018 and April 2019, the five trainees undertook practical seatime experience on board the MV Szechuen, gaining important skills and learning more about the international maritime industry – and themselves.

‘At first it was quite new to us, working with such a multi-national crew on board. So, we had to get used to working in a new environment,’ Lyllelah Kunai said.

Her fellow awardees expressed similar sentiments. ‘But then as time went along, we became friends,’ Glenda Amu said.

The awardees undertook practical elements of the cadetship training program, on board MV Szechuen, building on theoretical knowledge gained during classes in Papua New Guinea.

For Irma Rua, working alongside more senior officers and observing all aspects of the ship’s operations – at sea and during port calls across the Asia-Pacific – were highlights.

‘On a daily basis our Cadet Training Officer went through with us as per the cadet training program. We covered topics including navigation, cargo watch and mooring,’ Ms Rua said.

It was not all plain sailing being away from home for an extended period, and there was much to learn beyond the classroom. However, the five cadets agreed that they had a very supportive cadet training officer, crew and peers.

‘Our cadet training officer pointed out our weaknesses,’ Jamie-Lee Baim laughed.

‘So, every morning when I woke up, I told myself that I would improve, and I would be better.

‘I’m still working on them though,’ Ms Baim added with a grin. ‘I’m not saying that I’ve completely overcome them.’

The five awardees recently began a second phase of sea experience, this time with Pacific Towing, and are due to complete their cadetships in 2021.

Buoyed by their successes at sea, the five young seafarers hope to see more women follow them into the maritime sector, in which females remain under-represented.

‘Women bring in a different perspective,’ Ms Kunai said, a view which fellow trainee Ms Amu shared.

‘It’s a tough industry.  But if we can do it, other women can too,’ Ms Amu said.