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In her own words “… the girl was docking and sailing across oceans, flying different flags – from Africa to Asia – from Europe to the U.S. The girl moved, carrying the voice of the mother that had said to her; you will be just fine…”

Captain Londy Ngcobo is a Global Ship Navigator and Africa’s First Female Dredge Master who is passionate about unlocking Africa’s Ocean Economy. Clocking in over fourteen years of experience in the maritime industry, her background includes Maritime Studies, International Merchant shipping experience, Advanced dredging from the Netherlands IHC, an industry-shaking role as a former Executive Maritime Compliance Manager for Transnet National Ports Authority. Today, she is a Chief Executive of Womaritime Experts and Founder of Global Maritime Youth – all of which continue to echo her well-known title “The BLACKMERMAID”.

She suppressed the whispers of doubt and fear and excelled in her industry and she tells us all about it through this conversation…

Q. The Maritime world isn’t too familiar to most people. Can you briefly explain what exactly it entails and what you do as a Dredge Master?

Maritime is mostly everything connected to the sea or waterways throughout the world, especially in relation to navigation, shipping, and marine engineering. The industry has a direct impact on much of our everyday lives. 

Think about the oil that powers our cars. Many of our vehicles, our electronics, the coffee we drink, the food we eat, and the clothes we wear come from overseas and are sent to different parts of the world if manufactured in our home country.

I am a ship navigator by profession (ship Captain). There are different kinds of ships – these include passenger ships, container ships, tanker ships, and dredger ships. I’ve worked on different kinds of ships including dredger ships, hence the title ‘Dredge Master’ and that’s when I landed the title of being ‘first’ on those particular ships. 

Q.   With over 14 years of being in this industry, plus the added roles of being an influential voice in the transport sector, what does a ship captain’s busiest day look like?  

There is no structure to the Captain’s day – she’s everywhere with everyone. The ship captain lives on board (because most ships work for 24hrs) and oversees the subordinates. The core function of a ship navigator is to navigate the ships. Over and above that, there are various departments, like the engine room that is headed by a chief engineer and the galley that is headed by the head chef. The captain has overall authority over the whole ship and all activities associated with its smooth sailing.

Q. Working in the ocean often means spending weeks, perhaps even months away from home. Did you struggle with this at the beginning of your career? Fast forward to being a wife and a mother, how have you structured your life to accommodate these changes?

I always say that a real man will know a woman is worth the wait. I met my husband during my first year of varsity and it became clear that since I study maritime, there will come a time where I have to be away. It was never an issue and I never felt that I needed to apologise for it. I didn’t want to have a child while working at sea because I wanted to be fully present, so when I was ready to have a child, I took on a role as an Executive Maritime Compliance Manager at Transnet, and now I have transitioned into business full time as a maritime expert consultant for my company Womaritime Experts. I phased things fairly to suit my growth as a woman to ensure that it was well balanced.

Q. In your Ted Talk, you mention that there’s only 2% of women in your industry globally. Why is that? 

I think awareness is the problem. People often contradict the navy with commercial merchant shipping. People are also not yet exposed to the vastness of the maritime industry and the minority that does know about it is often hesitant to take on the challenge because we are hardly home as seafarers. On average, we are away from our families for three to six months. The thought of separation anxiety alone throws most women off. The other contributing factor is simply based on company policies and the lack of gender equity accountability from companies; however, the International Maritime Organisation has challenged the industry with the theme #iamonboardwithgenderequality. We’re hopeful that companies will start taking a more inclusive approach so we can see an incline on the global 2% female participation. 

Q.   You are passionate about contributing to the growth of the Ocean Economy. The pandemic has pressed the pause button across different industries. How was your industry impacted and what are the solutions to get it back up again?

Imagine being on a ship for three months with the anticipation of soon clocking off, only to be told you can’t go home until further notice. It’s heart-breaking to witness the effects of seafarers having to stay onboard beyond their stated contract periods. However, on the business side, I was lucky to finally be able to introduce businesswomen into the Ocean Economy field and the fruits it bears. More and more women in business are starting to realise that while we fight for our land, we need not disregard that the ocean belongs to us too.  

Q.  You have served on various boards in the transport sector as well and influential organizations within leadership, women, and youth spheres. What are some of the challenges have you come across when it comes to young people and women accessing key, influential positions in the transport sector?

The biggest challenge for South Africa’s Ocean Economy lies in the lack of ship ownership. This has stripped us of the power to employ our own youth on board ships, which gives international shipping companies the upper hand. However, most South African maritime organisations have tried to be creative in diversifying skills supply to feed the demand we can influence. 

Q.  All a girl child needs is access to opportunities and what makes it even better, is representation. What programs have you embarked on to inspire the girl child? Is that why you founded Global Maritime Youth? 

Precisely! I get many girls saying they want to be like uSis Londy and that’s exactly what gave birth to the foundation. The black child cannot still be associated as one that fears the ocean and cannot swim. Pure love for the ocean needs to be just as authentic as that of the land for the next generation. The image of a black female Captain needs to be just as normal as that of Captain. When people go to cruise liners for vacation, the expectation should be to see more black female captains. That’s why global maritime youth exists, to cultivate pure love for the ocean, and to foster the maritime skills supply and demand through global collaborations. 

With Londy being one of the women, representing only a fraction of the maritime industry’s largely male-dominated workforce, she sure is pushing for the change and equality she wants to see in the industry. We look forward to seeing more women enter the space and for the language around “seamen” shift – and we have no doubt it will when we see what women like Londy Ngcobo have done for the appeal in these career fields. We lift and affirm that A Woman sure does belong in Maritime!