Going into the dark depths of ships is all in a day’s work for Natashia Ramdhanee. Lucinda Hippolyte
DURBAN - People can't believe it when Natashia Ramdhanee mentions what she does for a living.

They find it hard to imagine how she ventures down dozens of steps through the darkness into the very bottom of ships, including tankers. And then she has to crawl through the tanks, which have been emptied of their cargo, to carry out inspections.

And if a tanker hasn't been cleaned out properly before she descends, she ends up crawling through oil.

Ramdhanee works for the award- winning Southern African Shipyards (SAS) at Durban’s Bayhead and is the only woman ship repair project manager in the city.

“People are amazed when they find out what sort of a job I have,” the mother-of-one said.

“Yes, it’s dangerous; it’s pitch black and disorientating and you have to be careful you don’t slip. You slip, you die.

“I was scared when I first started doing this, but now I am used to it. And of course you get your hands dirty. It’s like being a miner going down a shaft.”

With the ship sitting on blocks in the dry dock, Ramdhanee goes into the bottom of the vessel with the owners’ representative, the superintendent, to find damaged areas and then arranges for the repairs to be done.

Ships have to go into dry dock every few years to be inspected according to their class of ship, and more frequently if they're old.

Kitted out in a hard hat - with a light attached - overalls and heavy boots, Ramdhanee wears a safety harness to do her job, which involves lowering herself into the dark depths of a ship’s various tanks.

“Some vessels can have larger tanks and I have to climb down several-metre-long ladders. Going down is the most dangerous part of the job.”

As well as carrying out the inspections, she liaises with the superintendent while the vessel is in dry dock, and plans and procures specialised equipment for any work that needs to be done.

Ramdhanee joined SAS as a junior project manager in 2014 and progressed to her present position, where she works on various types of ships, yachts and tankers.

She was studying to be a mechanical engineer at a Durban college when she received a call from another company telling her she had all the requirements to be a boiler-maker.

She completed her apprenticeship and went to work for another company as a project assistant working on oil rigs. She has a mechanical drafting qualification and joined SAS when it won the maintenance contract for the SA Navy frigate the SAS Amatola.

Prasheen Maharaj, the chief executive of SAS, said: “We are really proud of Natashia. She is doing a great job. She is a proud beneficiary of our development programme. The transformation of our industry and the creation of opportunities for the advancement of black women remains a core strategy for the sustainable development and success of SAS.”

- THE MERCURY