A female Saldanha marine pilot has made history by becoming the first female to hold an Open Licence certification to guide ships of any type and size in and out of South African ports.
Salmaa Vincent was able to apply her newly acquired Open Licence certification in July 2017, which enables her to guide a 350 metre long vessel with a deadweight tonnage of 300 000dwt craftily into the port.
Open Licence certification is one of the most coveted qualifications in the field and permits qualified marine pilots to guide ships of any type and size in and out of the ports, from the very smallest vessels to the gigantic super tankers and container ships.
Aged 30, Vincent received a bursary from Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) in 2005, which allowed her to pursue one year of Maritime Studies at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, followed by 18 months at sea with Safmarine (now Maersk).
In 2008, she went on to pass her oral exam with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), and was issued with a Deck Officer certificate of competency.
Transnet then enrolled her in a tug master programme which she completed in January 2009. This was followed by oral exams at SAMSA, before obtaining her Master Port Operations certificate.
She further went on to do a year of marine pilot training, which included a two weeks practical ship handling in Rotterdam. Upon her return, she completed simulation training in Durban at the Transnet Maritime School of Excellence.
Vincent completed her practical pilot training in Cape Town in September 2011 and qualified as a marine pilot. She first served at the Port of Cape Town for three months before returning to the Port of Saldanha.
Sharing her first experience of guiding the biggest ship, Vincent said it was nerve wracking at first, but “this was soon overtaken by exhilaration and excitement at my ability.”
“Throughout the experience I concentrated and exercised caution to ensure that I was successful,” she said.
She attributes her success to TNPA’s efforts to empower women in its environment, which she said she has witnessed through her journey.
“I read a lot about women within TNPA doing remarkable things, making a difference and taking on senior and leadership roles which inspires me,” Vincent said.
She also thanked her mentors including retired Captain Brian Radford, Captain Ahmed, as well as her father who encouraged her to continue her studies, and to obtain various qualifications while she climbed the ladder of success in her industry.
She further thanked her husband, Wahseem Vincent, whom she said has been a “true rock”, supporting her in her career and was always behind her.
Be determined and have strong character
Her advice to other women interested in breaking through the glass ceiling is: “You have to be determined and have strong character. Be clear about what you would like to get out of your career. You also need perseverance because you have to work with Mother Nature, and you must be physically fit”.
In her spare time, Vincent enjoys spending time with her 16-month-old daughter, travelling and going to the beach.
Although juggling everything can be a handful at times, Vincent said she cherished the strong support system that is always there to back her up.
She said she was excited about the future of South Africa’s ports, adding that while her dream is to obtain pilot licences in other ports, there are exciting things happening at the Port of Saldanha.
“Transnet is developing new infrastructure and expanding and stimulating the economy. With the development of Saldanha port infrastructure to support the oil and gas sector, the towns of Saldanha and Langebaan will be the jewels of the West Coast with overseas companies establishing businesses here and totally new and bigger vessels visiting our ports. There is lots to look forward to,” she said.
Vincent, who completed her Harbour Master Diploma in October 2016, through IBC Academy in London, said she would like to pursue her MBA in the near future.