Women in shipping – Radhika Menon, radio officer, Shipping Corporation of India

Captain Radhika Menon. Credit: IMO
Captain Radhika Menon. Credit: IMO

Captain Radhika Menon has been a trailblazer in the maritime community, not just for the fact that she was the first female captain in the Indian Merchant Navy but also because she became the first woman seafarer to receive the International Maritime Organization’s award for Bravery at Sea, back in 2016. She was recognised for her incredible efforts in June 2015 when she, as the captain of Shipping Corporation of India product tanker Sampurna Swarajya, rescued seven fishermen trapped on a sinking ship in a storm in the Bay of Bengal.

Menon batted aside praise, maintaining that she was “just doing her job” and following her training. It took three attempts before she managed to save the crew of the sinking Durgamma, whose families had given them up for dead and started funeral arrangements.

“It is every seafarer’s and Master’s solemn duty and obligation to save souls in distress at sea. I just did what any seafarer should do for a fellow soul in distress at sea. Yes, it was an instant decision, but not without assessing the risks involved. I just did my duty,” she said when receiving the award, explaining that her nomination came out of the blue for her.

While she waved away specific praise for being a woman that had succeeded in a particularly male-dominated sphere, she has since founded the International Women Seafarers Foundation (IWSF) in conjunction with two other Indian seafarers – chief engineer and current Maersk marine manager Suneeti Bala and Sharvani Mishra, the first female engineer to sail onboard an Indian-flagged vessel.

With her partners, Menon is working hard to ensure that the IWSF becomes the “voice of all lady seafarers to ensure a gender diverse working environment on board ships and in developing their career ashore”. The group not only offers women seafarers support and mentorship to overcome social challenges, but also offers corporate guidance to address any gender divide issues. The latter is not just specific to private entities, but has also been made available to educational and government institutions.

The matter is one that is close to Menon’s heart given that she overcame considerable odds to pursue her dream of working at sea. Her family, which hails from the south Indian city of Kochi, had been eager for her to pursue a land-based professional career. However, her aptitude at a local radio officer course impressed the principal of the institute enough to make an impassioned plea to her parents to allow her to continue on this career track. Her intense focus not only allowed her to excel as a radio officer, but work her way up to Master – setting a wonderful example for women around the world.