A maritime career is possible if you put your heart into laying the groundwork. This rings true for Carol Wallan, an Australia Awards In-PNG Scholarship alumna who graduated from the Maritime Cadetships for Women in 2023. Carol, who comes from East New Britain and Manus provinces, previously worked as an administration officer at NASFUND before deciding that a life on the high seas was her calling. Today, the proud mum of two is a Chief Officer and second in command aboard KEERA, a blue water tug vessel within the Pacific Towing Marine Services (PacTow) fleet which pulls and guides larger vessels through the Port Moresby Harbour.

As a qualified Officer of the Watch, Carol brings diverse skills and experience to her workplace. This is the result of an extensive cadetship providing both study and professional seafaring experience in coastal PNG and on international waters through Steamships Consortium.

“I wouldn’t be in this career if it wasn’t for my faith and the support of my family, Australia Awards PNG, PacTow and Consort Shipping – it really takes a village to get here. While my parents stepped in to take care of my children, different groups of people also ensured that I got the best education and sea time training, and I’m still getting that support in my new role.”

During her training, Carol spent a lot of time aboard container vessels such as MV Bougainville Coast and MV Niugini Coast, transporting goods to and from ports around the country. These days Carol ensures KEERA is operating up to speed including vessel navigation watch duties, communications, and maintenance. A typical day for her includes supervising and enforcing safety procedures and overseeing maintenance of deck and lifesaving equipment. She describes the tug life as a different work environment compared to other vessels.

“We are always on call to assist ships coming into and leaving port. There was one time when I was about to go to bed around 9pm and we received a call to bring in a tanker alongside Napa Napa Wharf. Usually, berthing tankers take two or more hours and requires two tugs. But my crew and I got it done by 1am – I was exhausted, but this is the life I chose. I have no regrets,” says Carol.

While her workplace is male dominated, Carol says the work is not exclusive to one gender. She recalls her four-year cadetship as a journey of finding her ‘strong, resilient self.’

“There’s no difference as a female on board. Whatever the work calls for, whether removing rust off vessels or safely steering ships, we all do it. My male crewmates are helpful and teach me things I need to know.”

Work on a tugboat means that Carol lives away from her family. When asked how she copes, Carol says she has an awesome crew. “We work and live on board together 24-7 so naturally we have this close family-like bond, and this is important. While navigating a tugboat like KEERA requires precision, confidence, you also need a good team. I am proud to contribute to our collective success.”

Carol says there’s no place she’d rather be than aboard KEERA, but the sea beckons her to push boundaries.

“My Scholarship taught me that sacrifice pays off. I already have my Certificate of Competency, but my career plan doesn’t stop here. Right now, I’m enjoying my training to become a tug master – basically, I get to drive a tug and assist ship movements. I look forward to seeing where the tide takes me, Carol adds.

Carol’s transition from a career in administration to Chief Officer of ‘the KEERA’ is an echoing reminder that women have a place in the maritime sector. The Maritime Cadetship for Women, supported by Australia Awards PNG in partnership with the Steamships Consortium (Steamships, Pacific Towing, Consort Shipping and Swire Shipping), gives   many young women, the freedom and courage to explore career opportunities for a life on the high seas.

Since 2018, the scholarship has seen 40 women receive scholarships, and 18, including Carol, have graduated as Officers of the Watch. This is part of a collective effort to increase women’s representation in Papua New Guinea’s maritime workforce.