NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
RADHIKA MENON : “IMO Award has Added to my Responsibility”
By SEA AND COAST | 06/02/2017

India’s first woman merchant navy captain, Radhika Menon is also first ever Indian and a woman to have earned a coveted global award for exceptional bravery at sea. She made the country proud by receiving the top international bravery award from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London on 21 November, 2016. IMO is the United Nations’ specialized agency responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships. Master of the oil products tanker Sampurna Swarajya, Radhika received the highest IMO bravery recognition for saving the lives of seven fishermen from a sinking fishing boat during a tumultuous storm in the Bay of Bengal in June 2015.. Born in Kerala, Radhika Menon first overcame opposition from her family to join merchant navy as a radio officer. Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla tried to track her journey. Excerpts of an exclusive interview:


Let me first congratulate you on making the country proud. You are the first ever woman to earn the IMO award for exceptional bravery at sea. You have hogged the global attention. What comes to your mind whenever you step up to a new award?

Responsibility. As you already know women were never a part of the merchant seafaring, at least in India, when I started my career. So at every step there were doubts, scepticism and added scrutiny. So for me, nothing changes except to see to it that the responsibility given to me as a captain and a seafarer is fulfilled. Be it navigating my ship, taking care of my crew or for that matter rendering assistance to souls in distress. Apart from a lot of other women seafarers aspiring or otherwise who may consider me as a trendsetter, I have added responsibility due to the limelight on me now.

Does the applause at the IMO award ceremony continue to ring in your ears?

Yes, it was the greatest appreciation coming from the highest maritime body. It will remain with me for the rest of my life and I will always cherish this recognition.

Had you ever imagined to become so famous?

I don’t consider myself famous. Yes, although this award has thrust me into limelight, yet as a person I knew that my joining seafaring will raise a few eyebrows and inspire many women but didn’t ever think about anything more.

Has your life changed since receiving the IMO award?

The things are still the same, except that I do get called for a few interviews or award functions. This award has made the general public aware of the seafarers and the seafaring. Currently I am preparing to join my next ship.

Take me down your memory lane, please. When and why did you decide to join Merchant Navy?

I never wanted to do graduation and do a nine-to-five job. Therefore after schooling, I opted for a tool and die making which was also a male dominated profession. My father never approved of it and eventually. I had to opt out. After opting out, while waiting for the normal college to start, I came across a Radio officers’ course. The part one was for 6 months only. I convinced my dad that I would quit when the regular college started.

Got enrolled for Radio officers’ course and cleared theory paper in the very first attempt. The college principal persuaded dad to allow me to appear for the rest of the exams and dad had to agree.

After clearing exams, before I knew, the entire neighbourhood was talking about it.

My family friends, the relatives and the neighbours convinced my parents to let go of me. I was totally ignorant about seafaring being a male dominated field. Perhaps my ignorance was my strength. I joined THE S.C.I LTD R/O. After my initial months on board, I found navigation very interesting.

I opted for conversion to deck videDG circular of 1993.

Since then, I have cleared exams at each stage and finally took command in 2012 thus becoming the first woman as Master of Indian Merchant Navy.

You have described your job of captain as gender neutral. Why had no Indian woman been able to captain a ship before? What separates you from them.

Yes it is indeed gender neutral. Onboard a ship, you get a rank, based on your competence. And to get your certificate of competence you need to prove it in exams, which is pretty tough. Even with a certificate of competence if you think you will be granted some leniency on board because you are a lady, then you are mistaken. Each officer and crew has his/her duties well defined and it will not and can’t be gender specific. That is how seafaring works and I wouldn’t want it to change.

About why women have not commanded a ship before, it is just because of the stereotyped mind set. I am glad that it is changing. I feel I am no different from other women. I guess my insistence on sticking to seafaring was the difference. There were several challenges. Being the first woman seafarer, I have faced a lot of hurdles due to apprehensions of people around me but I carried on with confidence to overcome them. Every hurdle crossed boosted my confidence.

Why are there fewer women in the merchant navy than in other professions?

Things are changing now. It is not the same as it was when I had taken up this career. Yes, our mindset is different. When we think about seafaring as a career for women, that needs to change and it is changing.

How do you cope with separation from family for months?

While out at sea I regularly keep in touch with my family. While on leave, I am totally spending quality time with my family. My family is very supportive and understanding.

Given an opportunity, which incident in your life would you like to change?

Given an opportunity, I wish my younger brother was alive.