Reshma Nilofer Visalakshi India’s First and Only Woman Marine Pilot

Reshma Nilofer Visalakshi: India’s First and Only Woman Marine Pilot

Success Stories Women

According to a report by the International Maritime Organization, women represent only 1.2% per cent of the global seafarer workforce. Within this historically male-dominated industry, Reshma Nilofer Visalakshi emerges as India’s first and only woman marine pilot. She became a fully-fledged Pilot in 2018 and has gone sailing on some of the world’s largest vessels.

She is awarded the Highest Civilian Award by the Government of  India. Reshma is a motivational speaker advocating for women in shipping and women’s rights and encourages women seafarers to join the shipping industry. 

Reshma hails from Chennai and currently operates as a maritime pilot at the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port in Kolkata (Erstwhile, Kolkata Port Trust). As a marine pilot, she undertakes the responsibility of bringing ships in and out of the ports and handling several kinds of vessels such as Cargo, Navy Coast Guard, Tanker, and Gas Carrier. She is working on the river Ganges, which is locally named here as the Hooghly River. The river is one of the most treacherous waters to navigate and one of the most difficult piloted waters in the world.

The river originates from the Himalayas, carrying a significant amount of silt and the depth is also dwindling and is a narrow channel. It has numerous bends, curves, turns, and strong tidal flows reaching speeds of up to 16 km per hour, which poses substantial challenges. The complexities arise from the fact that ships, unlike cars or other vehicles, do not travel at the same speeds. Despite the demanding nature of her work, Reshma finds it both rewarding and challenging.

How Reshma Nilofer Entered The Maritime Industry

Reshma Nilofer didn’t plan to become a marine pilot; it happened by chance. As a kid, she wanted an off-beat job, and joining the maritime industry wasn’t something she had in mind. She didn’t know much about it and didn’t have any family connections or godfathers to guide her.

One day, she saw a newspaper advertisement about a fully sponsored course, which would cover all the costs, and upon completion, there was a guaranteed job placement with one of the biggest shipping companies globally – A.P. Moller Maersk. This Danish shipping company is a leader in the field and it turned out to be the unexpected start of Reshma’s career as a marine pilot.

The company held a pan-India talent exam and the announcement came in the newspaper.  Intrigued by the possibility of an off-beat job with travel involved, she decided to apply and take the exam. Making it through the test, Reshma then attended a briefing where she learned about the maritime industry and the responsibilities of the job. With little prior knowledge, she sought advice from her mother’s friend, and after going through entrance exams, interviews, and a medical examination, Reshma successfully joined the company.

IMO’s Contribution To Supporting More Women To Enter This Industry

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been actively working to increase awareness about women in the maritime industry. Even though women are welcome as employees at sea, many people are still unaware of this. Currently, women make up about 1.2 per cent of employees on cargo vessels and societal gender norms contribute to this inequality.

The Organization has taken significant steps that involve celebrating the Day of Seafarers based on a theme that provides visibility to women seafarers. It has announced the International Women’s Day in Maritime on 18 May 2023. The day focuses on mobilising networks for gender inequality and empowering women in the maritime industry.

In 2023, IMO took a unique approach by selecting several women sailors’s profiles from Facebook and Instagram maritime groups. They ran the profiles for 365 days. The women’s wing of the IMO started this initiative to provide visibility every day and put the spotlight on the daily lives, backgrounds, and achievements of these women sailors. Reshma was among the women who received visibility through this initiative.

She shares, “I believe that it is not just IMO’s responsibility to provide visibility. It is essential to carry forward and build something from the initiative. Although companies are hiring women, it is not enough. On a positive note, companies like Maersk, Synergy Marine Group and Hafnia are actively working to become more gender-inclusive. These companies have made gender-inclusive policies and are also organising career guidance and employment drives to hire women.”

If I Can, Other Women Can Do It Too

Reshma Nilofer Visalakshi awarded by former president

Reshma believes that it’s important for the male workforce to get accustomed to working alongside female counterparts, bosses, and leaders. “Being a Pilot isn’t easy.  It’s about trusting your instincts to guide ships in and out of ports, with lots of responsibility and quick decision-making. Women might find it risky or troublesome, so they avoid becoming marine pilots.

As a marine pilot, I climb ships using the pilot ladder, something on which I have no control, it can fail anytime. It’s rigged by humans and there could be mistakes. Climbing can be tough if the sea isn’t calm. Despite the challenges, I want to show that if I can, other women can do it too. It is a challenging yet rewarding job,” explains Reshma.

Message from Reshma Nilofer Visalakshi

The attitude of ‘I cannot do this’ and questioning one’s ability has to stop. Give those tough challenges a shot and even if you don’t ace them, you’ll feel proud for trying. Don’t restrict yourselves to society’s expectations. Spread your wings and follow your passion. Life’s too short to be stuck in a job that feels like a chore.

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