A woman in a man’s world

Captain Sue Balekana at work. Picture: SUPPLIED

WHEN ship captain Sue Balekana’s family heard she was going to pursue a career in the shipping industry, they all laughed.

For one she was strongly averse to boat trips and was often seasick during sea voyages.

“Oh, I was terrible,” she said chuckling.

“We lived on Kadavu at the time and whenever we would travel by boat, I would be down with seasickness. I had to avoid certain drinks and food in order to bear the voyage.”

Today, she is one of the few female ship captains who have successfully gone up the ranks.

With a career spanning 14 years, some of her work experience included taking barges around the South Pacific, Australia and Singapore, moving onto cargo boats, passenger ferries and tugboats.

She also has ambitions to further her training by studying for her Class 1 & 2 tonnage qualifications to add to her Class 3 Masters with Watchkeeper endorsement.

At present, she is captaining the Blue Lagoon Cruises’ Fiji Princess and when asked how she was finding the experience, she smiled.

“I’m still getting used to talking to the passengers. It’s a lot different from taking barges and cargo boats on long voyages and it doesn’t talk to you.” She says working in predominantly male has been an eye-opening experience and that respect goes both ways.

“I’ve managed to adapt well in this field, the guys give me a level of respect and I reciprocate the same respect to them. In this field, you can’t expect to be treated like a queen, you have to do the hard yards and everyone is treated the same.”

Apart from her work, Capt Balekana is also the vice-president of the Women In Maritime (Fiji), an organisation that looks into the welfare of women in the maritime industry.

“We welcome all women seafarers to join the organisation, we’ve just started and we hope to address some of the issues faced by them. It has been a great experience overall — manning a ship and looking after our organisation — we’ll see where this journey takes me,” she said with a big smile.

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