Wednesday 14 April 2021
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Tuwilika Amukwa: Beating the maritime odds

A s a girl growing up, when Tuwilika Amukwa would go to the port with her father who was a seafarer and she would envy the women in uniform at the port. But at that time, she did not know that her future entailed a job in the maritime field.

While working in Swakopmund as a secretary in 2002, she stumbled upon a newspaper advert in which Namibian Maritime and Fisheries Institute (Namfi) was looking for students to register for maritime training. On that specific day, it was the closing day for registration. She dropped everything she was doing and prepared her documents, filled out her application and submitted.

She was invited for an interview which she passed.

“I did not know how to approach my boss and tell him that I want to go and study. When I eventually drew the strength to tell him, he said that I leave I would be liable and I should pay the company and since I did not have money I decided to stay. After six months I came across the same advert, they called me in and said they were waiting, I instantly quit my job and took up the studies,” she said.

She finished her studies at Namfi and landed a job a Pescanova as a watch keeper.

She was eventually promoted to work as a second mate and eventually chief mate. From 2004 to 2011, Amukwa worked as a chief mate.

“I wanted to further my studies but I could not because I was the breadwinner. Also I had to look after my siblings seeing that my parents had passed on and the study and training costs were out of my reach,” she said.

Notwithstanding the odds, nothing could stop Amukwa. Despite struggling to find a sponsor, she remained hopeful that one day a sponsor would come forth and assist her.

In 2012 she was admitted at CPUT where she did her maritime studies. “I must say this was the start of my career at sea on-board a vessel.

At the Cape Peninsula University of Technology I competed my S1 – S4 in December 2013 and graduated thereafter. After the graduation, I had to do my practicals, it was tough for me because I did not have a sponsor to do my sea time. I came back home and knocked on doors for sponsorship,” she said regrettably.

“It was very difficult to do the sea time due to financial restraints, so I stayed home for over a year and applied for financial assistance without any success.

I sent a financial assistance request letter to Namsov Fishing in 2015 and I was subsequently called in for an interview.  Eventually I received the call informing me that I passed the interview and that the company would sponsor my practical sea time period. I entered the company as a Navigational Officer and had the chance at last to complete my prerequisite sea time on board a vessel.”

The cost for training hovered around N$13 000 a month.

Amukwa’s training ranged anywhere from overcoming sea sickness and survival skills at sea to repairing boat and ship engines.

“The skills are there for knowledge purposes only because there are individuals employed to conduct maintenance on the ship,” she said

“If you go there because of money you will not survive, especially women. When you are in a position of authority, at times men do not want to carry out orders and they look down on you forgetting that their safety is in your hands. But I remained resilient and I did not allow them to pull me down because I have a mandate to fulfil,” she confidently.

She added: “My job entailed navigating the ship safely, ensuring it is on the right course to avoid collision especially when there is restricted visibility. It involves paying close attention to detail because any mishap can lead to an accident.”

“That side[Northern hemisphere] ship navigators comply strictly to the rule of the road, but over here navigators do as they please. We are fortunate that the disregard for the rules of the road have not led to collision. The rule of the road is basically the navigational manual on sea, it is like a driving manual. It indicates the signals one must apply in certain circumstances for example how to overtake, which flag to hoist, lights to exhibit and sound signal you must sound depending on the visibility,” she explained.

One of the biggest challenge when it comes to life at sea, according to Amukwa, is the language barrier.

“In most cases people speak languages such as Spanish, Russian and Portuguese. In most cases they go for the captain’s language, this includes the navigational equipment. This makes it difficult for those who do not understand the language to effectively utilise the equipment. In most cases, some of the foreign captains claim Namibians are not competent to be in positions of authority on the ship, forgetting that the language challenges play a big role,” she said.

Someday, Amukwa said, she would like to get a on-shore job and give up the constant sailing, but she never will she stop trying to encourage other women to break the rules that subject them to be inferior to their male counterparts.

She believes that women can succeed at anything if they only put their hearts and minds into it, even in a male dominated world.
She urged those who wish to pursue a career in maritime “to believe in themselves and remain focused.”

“Looking back at this whole journey, I can only say; it was not easy because at the same time I had to also care for and look after my younger brothers and sisters. But, I did this because family is very important to me and it is my duty.  Over and above this I am married with a young daughter of my own.

A very special thanks should go to my husband who has been there for me and supported me all the way so that I could make my dream come true and further my maritime career.  Not many married men would do that.  I owe my husband a very big gratitude and having said that, I also owe my whole family, brothers, sisters, cousins a big thank you for standing in when I couldn’t do so myself because of work.  For anybody who want to achieve what seems to be impossible or difficult, I have the following to say; “Don’t let life be an obstruction on your way.  Take a decision and stick to it, all the way.”

After the completing her time at sea, she came home to prepare for her Oral examination in order to complete the requirements for her ticket.  She passed the exam and received a qualification as an Unlimited Navigational Officer.

Amukwa is currently unemployed completed her studies as well as sea time.

“At the moment I am busy approaching different companies in search for a job.”

Her travels on sea took her to countries such as Mauritius, India, Spain Russia, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa, Netherlands, Italy, Beirut and Algeria.

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