With World Fisheries Day celebrated around the globe earlier in the week, a local engineer is cracking the glass ceiling.
World Fisheries Day, November 21, highlights the importance of a sector that produces around 80 million tons of food and employs at least 40 million people.
Someone who has personal experience of the opportunities that exist in fishing is Lucinda Krige, the first woman to qualify as a chief engineer in the South African fishing industry.
Krige was working as a chambermaid in a Cape Town hotel when she read of an opportunity to train at sea as an engineering cadet. Knowing that this was her chance to achieve a lifelong ambition of working as an engineer, Krige applied for the position.
“I didn’t know much about life at sea - I’m the first in my family to work in the fishing industry - but I applied, I got the job and when I got into Sea Harvest and I got to know what marine engineering is all about, I discovered this is actually the career I was looking for and I didn’t even know it,” she says.
Chief engineers are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the main propulsion, marine systems and machinery on board a fishing vessel, including the main engines, auxiliary engines, the refrigeration and steering systems, as well as the processing equipment in the on-board fish factory.
“The vessels are technologically so advanced,” explains Krige, “there’s a lot of electronics behind the scenes that aid with navigation and trawling, and that is something that you also need to maintain and accommodate.”
It took Krige five years of theoretical training and work experience to secure a chief engineer’s qualification. On almost every ship she sailed, she was the only woman on board, and she says she received phenomenal tuition, support and encouragement from her male colleagues, especially the engineers, skippers and mates.
“Working in a male-dominated environment wasn’t intimidating to me. I just slotted in,” she recalls.
Today, 11 years after qualifying as a chief engineer, Krige has swopped her engineer’s overalls for a shore-based job in the learning and development department at Sea Harvest’s Saldanha Bay plant. She is responsible for maritime and technical training for Sea Harvest employees, as well as the training of about 40 apprentices.
“With my engineering background, I just hit the ground running when it came to learning and development, because the fields that I’m responsible for now are actually just an extension of the work I did at sea,” she says.
Krige strongly encourages young people who want to follow a career in engineering to consider marine engineering, because it encompasses such a broad spectrum of disciplines - from mechanical to electrical engineering, hydraulics, pneumatics and electronics.
“It is my privilege to tell people about the amazing scope for career progression that exists in the fishing industry,” she says.