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In this interview Amber Thomson, Mate/Trainee tug master of Port Hedland WA shares her experience in the towage industry with us.

Could you please introduce yourself and comment a bit more about your maritime background?

Hi, my name is Amber Thomson, I am 34 and have been in the marine industry for 12 years. I started my maritime career with work experience on my old man’s Tuna boat long lining out of Geraldton where I also continued to complete my trade/apprenticeship I then left Geraldton to travel overseas where I traveled all over for a few years. On my return to Australia, I returned to the maritime industry and started working in the remote Kimberly region of Western Australia (W.A.) where I spent 5 years learning the remote tidal region and loving absolutely every bit of it.

My time working in the Kimberly saw me progress from coxswain’s level to Master <24. I then decided to move my maritime career towards the offshore/Inshore industry and this is where I spend the next 4.5 years. I have enjoyed working inshore and offshore and I have worked on a variety of vessels from multicats, crew transfers, DP vessels and tugs continually learning new skills from different mentors throughout the years.

Today, I reside and work in Port Hedland WA. Where I am now a partner with 360 towage and salvage that subcontracts to Rivtow Marine. We currently manage two of BHP’s New built RAStar85 tugs conducting harbour towage in the port of Port Hedland. My position is a Mate/Trainee tug master which I have been for the past 24 months.

How long have you been involved in the towage industry?

I have been involved full time in the harbour towage industry for the last two years here in Port Hedland. Prior to Port Hedland I worked in and around Dampier Port, Exmouth, Scott reef and Barrow Island on Crew transfers, multicat’s, DP vessel, tug and barge configurations, seismic survey works and cargo ops to ships.

What were your impressions when you took the helm for the first time?

The first time I took the helm on a vessel I knew right then it was the new career path I wanted to pursue. I’m a person who thrives on challenge and I knew straight away this industry would provide a lifetime full of challenge and growth for me.

Why did you choose SeaWays as a training provider?

I chose SeaWays because the current masters and mentors within our partnership had previously completed the training program and it had come highly recommended by many masters who had completed all 3 modules. During my career I had heard that it was one of the best training providers for ASD tug handling and towage operations. So, I booked in and completed the training program for my own personal growth and skill set to help me in my progression and to give me a good understanding not only of the tugs capability’s during advanced towage operations but to understand the theory behind how and why the tug reacts under my control.

What was the most important for you when choosing the training provider?

It is an accepted training provider for our client and the structured training required.

What is your daily routine?

My daily routine has me starting work on the Crew Transfer Vessel at 0540 to transfer to the tug after which we conduct a crew change/handover with our 12 hr opposite shift personnel. We then commence our day with a prestart and toolbox meeting. We can do anywhere between 1-5 ship movements in a day usually around 3 but pending the positions allocated and the tides. In between towage, we conduct regular maintenance on the tug and complete emergency drills when required. I work a 4 week on 4 week off roster, working day shift from 0600-1800 for 2 weeks and then night shift 1800-0600 for two weeks.

Tell us the most memorable stories from your experience as a mariner?

There are so many amazing memories I couldn’t narrow it down to a few. Probably my first cyclone as a crew member relocating down the coast of WA and having to anchor up in the Monty bello’s and hide out sitting through the weather from a cyclone nearby we had to hang off the pick waiting for it to pass, constantly taking watches it was so windy and we were swinging around we had lightning hit the vessel which caused all radio communication to fail so couldn’t get weather updates that was a pretty intense long three days.

I have seen some pretty amazing things and shared some great sunsets, fishing and adventures through the Kimberly and diving the Rowley Shoals. So many memories have been made for me on the water and some of the best and strongest friendships I have ever made have been made living with the crew for long stints on swing away at work.

What is the best thing about working in the towage sector? 

I really enjoy the variety, every day you work with different pilots, different ships and in various positions pending allocation from the pilot and schedulers. Not one job is ever the same they are always different in some way or another which keeps it interesting. In general what more could you ask for working on the water daily and on such amazing state-of-the-art-tugs.

Do you think men and women in the towage industry are treated equally?

Yes, I believe we are all treated equally, however the numbers are very low in the female department.

What are the main challenges you as a female mate/trainee tug master face in your job?

I have found throughout my career in the marine industry that women tend to put more added pressure on themselves because from my experience most women feel they need to prove themselves in a male-dominated industry. I have worked in a male-dominated industry my whole life and the biggest challenge I had, in the beginning, was realising I didn’t have to prove myself and try twice as hard. Also, children, I guess if you want or have a young family it could/would be hard to juggle work and family, however, I have heard and seen this successfully done with another female tug master in the industry.

Are there any stereotypes that negatively affect women in the maritime/towage industry?

Nothing that has negatively affected me personally, everyone has completed the same studies and training so effectively we are all equal. I guess years ago females were considered not good or fit to work at sea, however, times have changed now and women are encouraged to join the maritime industry.

How can we encourage female participation in the maritime industry?

I think all the women currently in the industry can be seen as role models/mentors and great examples showing that not only can women work in this industry, they can also be very successful just as equally successful as any male.

What is the best piece of advice you can offer to a young woman who is considering entering the maritime industry?

My advice would be if you are one of the few females that has the want, drive, and passion to start in the maritime industry and knows instantly it’s what you want to do then pursue it! I can guarantee you’ll enjoy every bit. It’s like anything you are working hard at, you will have your good and bad days but keep working towards your goals. Listen, learn and take notes from all your colleagues willing to share experiences and knowledge. Although this is still a highly male-dominated industry I can honestly say all the men and women I work with are great and very supportive. It’s a changing industry. Go for it!

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