March 08, 2018

As every year, BOURBON celebrates the International Women’s Rights Day by highlighting the career of several of its employees, working onshore and on board vessels. After having operated onboard offshore supply vessels, Ann Till is now HSE Superintendent. She testifies*.

I left school at 16 years old straight to become a deck cadet. At 19, I was a qualified Officer of the Watch and worked my way up from Quarter Master (Bridge Rating). I had been on PSV for a few trips as a cadet, after being on deep-sea merchant vessels, so when the opportunity in 2006 came along to transfer from passenger Ro-Pax to offshore vessels, I grabbed it with open arms. I was always drawn to the ‘hands on’ jobs and the offshore industry fitted in with that – when I was first on the PSV, the Second Officer used to work cargo on deck with the AB and later on, I enjoyed the challenges of both ship handling and winch operation on deep-water rigmoves.

I would probably still be offshore now, if a job as a Marine Inspector hadn’t have come up. My vessel had just undergone a strict CMID and I thought “If you can’t beat them, join them!” and applied – a few months later, I found myself in my first ‘shore’ job, living in Qatar. After that learning curve, I set up my own business in UAE and that’s how I came to have an association with Bourbon.

 

"It can be a great feeling when you earn the respect from people that initially believed it is ‘only a man’s world’ by proving what you can do."
Ann TillHSE Superintendent

Times are changing!

The offshore industry is a man’s world as is the wider shipping industry. However, after 18 years, I still ‘forget’ the fact and it is the most natural thing to expect to be seen as a colleague and not a woman – it still surprises me sometimes when people see me as a woman first, something that ‘sticks out’. That is, of course, human nature much as it is for any obvious ‘minority’. It of course has some challenges, and the recent #metoo exposure certainly reminded me of some tougher times, but it can also be a great feeling when you earn the respect from people that initially believed it is ‘only a man’s world’ by proving what you can do. There’s also hidden practicalities, such as there being no sanitary bins on a vessel (combined with vacuum system toilets and MARPOL legislation, that’s a challenge!) or a lack of accommodation on smaller vessels (I once had to share a cabin with three other male shipmates!). There’s always those moments such as when you walk into a mess-room on an FPSO and feel lots of pairs of eyes staring at ‘a new woman’ but I’ve seen attitudes change over the years as women have become more commonplace. A few months ago, I was on an interfield surfer and there were more women than men! (5 of us!).

 

To reconcile family like and working life: a real challenge…

Thankfully I do not want children of my own, which is good considering my husband is also in the industry and works away. I’ve had 5 cats for the past 4 years (long story!) and have spent the last 2 years on a 7 weeks on:off rotation. The most difficult reconciliation is the hours of cleaning when I arrive back home after 7 weeks of the house being empty apart from them! Thankfully the advent of skype has made having a marriage working away so much easier than before. I remember when I first went to sea, communications home were still letters via the agent and using payphone cards on the dock or at seafarer’s missions. It’s much easier these days to stay in touch with family life when at work – which is exactly the same considerations for men as well as us women!

 

*Please find in the coming weeks in this OFFshore section testimonies of Julia Crand, Second Engineer, and Chioma Mbama, Contracts Manager.