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Kenya’s first female marine pilot narrates nightmare rise in boys’ club

Elizabeth Marami made history by becoming Kenya’s first female marine pilot but the journey was not as easy as many may think.

Born and raised in the coastal city of Mombasa, Marami had initially studied law at the University of Nairobi. She later opted to pursue navigation in Alexandria, Egypt for five years.

Her job as a marine pilot entails assisting vessels find their way into Kenya’s territorial waters. According to law, vessels entering a country’s territorial waters may not progress to the harbor without officials.

On Tuesday, she took to social media and narrated her journey in a male-dominated industry.

She said; “Every new day comes a new experience and lesson”.

“I have had those who have accepted me, helped me become better, and there have been some rejections that stung so hard I almost gave up, but overall I’d say I have certainly grown a thick skin.”

In a long thread on Twitter, she recalled how she almost gave up on her dream and the challenges she had to overcome to reach the top.

According to Ms Marima, in 2009, she embarked on the journey that changed her life for good.

“You see, when you pioneer, your priorities shift, it’s no longer about you but how you will make that space a better place for generations to come.”

Efforts were made and many worked tirelessly until a curriculum was developed and the Merchant shipping act revised. In 2010, Kenya became white listed by International Maritime organization to offer internationally recognized STCW. Kenyans train in Kenya and work internationally.

“I came home in 2014 with my 1st license but could not progress even as a pilot because I needed to attain my next license (1st Officer) so I remained a trainee pilot! This could only be change/achieved if I worked on a ship as a 3rd/2nd Officer for 12 months,” Marami adds.

“I must admit, I had days I questioned my purpose, then I remembered the young girl/boy who had enrolled in Bandari Maritime College and will not be able to get their 1st placement as a cadet to attain their first license and it was heart-breaking! This became my driving force.”

In 2017, a company offered her an opportunity as a cadet and she took it up with the hope that all she needed was “to prove herself to get promoted and work as a 3rd deck Officer which would count my months of experience to attain the next license”.

“After 6 months and a promotion recommendation, I went back for my next contract just to be turned down by the shipping company that they had been asked to end all PR relations with Kenya. I was back to square 1. The 6 months on board didn’t even count because I served as a cadet!”

“I’m an example that promotion is guaranteed! The plight of lack of placement for Kenyan seafarers will be ended and with a set up recruitment agency by MSC this opens doors to all Kenyans – but the deal must smoothly go through.”

“What I had fought for so long had come to pass and during the inauguration when the owner told me he hoped to employ more Kenyans, I had no doubt that this will come to pass.”

She says that on cruise ships, job opportunities are vast and don’t necessarily require high end skills, from housekeeping, garbage collectors, cleaners, waiters, bartenders, entertainers, shop sellers, casino dealers, receptionists, bartenders etc with the least being paid $750-900, with promotion guaranteed.

“Mind you, you have accommodation on the ship and food is provided so you end your contract with your salary intact! And in forex!