Gender diversity and female empowerment in the workplace are cornerstones in Transnet National Port Authority’s drive to transform the previously male dominated maritime industry and, with this strategy, more women are making their mark in various operational roles. The strategy for the Port of Cape Town centres on creating customer value, shared value and employee value. As part of creating employee value and ensuring talent management as well as succession planning in the port system, the port is aggressively empowering females to qualify as open licence pilots.

Noted for being the first female marine pilot to obtain an open licence at the Port of Cape Town, Sanette Robinson is trained and certified to guide anything from the very smallest vessels to tankers (51260 DWT) and container ships (12000 TEU) into port. Vessel piloting is a responsibility that requires dedication, hard work and a strong work ethic, according to Robinson, whose impressive maritime career serves as proof of her tenacity.

She began her career in 1995 in the South African Navy, where she served as a combat officer (watch keeping officer) on various ships. She then became the principal warfare officer on board the frigates before concluding her 12-year tenure in favour of joining the commercial industry.

“I worked at CPUT Survival Centre as a survival instructor and later became the head of programme.  It was there that I met marine pilots doing the helicopter underwater escape training.  I was immediately intrigued.  I then applied for a training tug master position in the Port of Port Elizabeth,” she said.

Sanette Robinson
Sanette Robinson

After qualifying as a tug master in PE, Robinson went on to serve on the tugs until she was selected for pilot training in 2009.  She qualified in September 2010 and applied for a post at the Port of Cape Town, where she has been successfully piloting ever since.  Her Open / Unrestricted Licence was achieved in September 2015.

“Piloting is a dream come true.  I love every aspect of the job and the challenges it presents but I am very encouraged by the support from TNPA in the pursuance of my dream,” she said.

Historically, the maritime industry was known to be predominantly male dominated but role players like TNPA are ensuring positive change. “TNPA strives towards bridging that gap between males and females by promoting and encouraging women to enter this industry,” said Cape Town Port Manager Mpumi Dweba-Kwetana. “I commend my female colleagues for joining me in changing the face of the shipping industry and for playing a huge part in contributing to the overall economic development of South Africa.”