Up Close with …. Marie-Jeanne Pathon, female first officer on board ships | 10 September 2019
‘If you show that you are interested in something, people will help you’
By Patrick Joubert
“I want to be a captain. Nothing is impossible in life if you put your mind and passion into it and if you show that you are interested in something, people will help you. And this is also how I got started, by showing I was interested and people believed in me.”
This is what Marie-Jeanne Pathon had to say about her choosing a seafaring career.
She is the only female first officer to work with the Inter Island Boats LTD, the mother company of ‘Cat Cocos’, one of leading fast ferry operators in Seychelles.
According to her, there might be female first officers at the Seychelles Coast Guard, but is the only one working in the navigation trade business.
The 36-year-old hailing from Anse à la Mouche has acquired vast experience in navigation after working on various small boats and big vessels – both locally and internationally.
Still single, Marie-Jeanne started her navigation career in 2008 with the Seychelles Trading Company (STC) (formerly the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB) fleet of vessels, mostly on Enterprise 1 as an able seaman after completing her studies at the Seychelles Maritime School (now Seychelles Maritime Academy – SMA).
After four years (in 2012) with SMB she was lured by the Seychelles Petroleum Company (Seypec) to work on its fleet of tankers, also as an able seaman. Four years later (in 2016), she pursued a two-year career with Mason’s Travel as a skipper onboard the company’s landing craft ‘Conquest’. The vessel which was based on Silhouette carried materials to private outer islands. After two years she left to join Inter Island Boats LTD, the holding company of ‘Cat Cocos’.
Working on the Seypec’s fleet of tankers has made Marie-Jeanne discover almost all of the European coasts, the western coast of Africa and as a skipper on ‘Conquest’ she had the opportunity to skipper the boat to many outer islands to as far as Aldabra where she acted as second officer because of the distance.
As a child, Marie-Jeanne used to spend most of her spare time on the beach or in the sea at Anse à la Mouche. As her father, Michel Pathon, was a boat builder, she would always follow him around to see the work he did. Apart from being a boat builder, her father also owned a fishing boat in which he took her and her brothers and sisters on short fishing trips. She said that with her father being a boat builder and her loving to be by the seaside, have immensely influenced her career path.
The soft spoken Marie-Jeanne said she enjoyed working with all the different companies as it has helped her to gather experience which has enabled her to be in the position she is occupying. But she regretted that she couldn’t stay with the previous employers because, according to her, in life if you want to move forward, one has to seize opportunities when they arise.
Marie-Jeanne works as a first officer on all four vessels of Inter Island Boats LTD – Isle of Mahe, Isle of Praslin, Isle of La Digue and Isle of La Digue Star – which provides fast ferry service connecting Mahe, Praslin and La Digue islands. She is very passionate about her job and believes that safety aboard a vessel is the crucial part and she gives her utmost attention to.
“I come from a family of four brothers and five sisters but unfortunately I have lost one sister. I am the baby of the family. Growing up was fun especially with my sisters. As we stayed near the sea we spent a lot of time playing by the seaside, in the sun or in the rain,” said Marie-Jeanne.
Marie-Jeanne did her primary level education at the Baie Lazare primary school before moving to Anse Boileau secondary school. She then joined the Seychelles Maritime School (now SMA) to study navigation and did her basic Standard Training Certification and Watch-Keeping (STCW). While working for Seypec she had the opportunity to follow a month-long navigation training in South Africa in 2009 sponsored by the company.
“At school I was a very quiet person and very personal and I still have some of these characteristics today even though I am little bit more open now. I don’t even remember getting any problem at school. When I was at Seychelles Maritime School, I was the only girl among all the boys in the classroom and also on all work attachments we were sent to. Being the only girl motivated me to work harder and to prove to myself that I can do as well as my male counterparts and as you may know this job is still seen as a male-dominated job and me being in this position today proves that a woman can also take control of a vessel and make decisions,” added Marie-Jeanne.
As first officer on board a boat
As the first officer on board boat, I have a lot of responsibilities.
“All safety equipment on board fall under my responsibility. As I am responsible for the safety of passengers and crew, I have to make sure that the boat is properly cleaned before boarding, I have to make sure that the crew have proper gears and other materials needed for them to perform their duties. My duties also include maneuvering and steering the boat and that also includes operating the navigation system to ensure that the boat stays on course during the journey. Safety is the number one priority onboard. The safety of our passengers comes first,” she said.
Love for the sea
“I love the sea a lot. You need to love the sea for you to be able to maneuver in it. I have never been afraid of the sea. When I was working on the Seypec tankers abroad, I did encounter bad weather with very rough seas and scary high waves but I stayed focus and I did what I had to do. By staying focus it helps you overcome the fright you may have inside. When I am at sea, I am not scared of any bad weather because I have encountered and experienced the worse of bad weather on the big tankers,” pointed out Marie-Jeanne.
“We have a good team spirit on board the vessel and I get the respect I deserve from everybody. Through orders and guidelines, everybody knows what he or she has to do and I respect my subordinates and I follow the decisions taken. I get the same response from the crew. We all work to please our customers and also to further promote and push the company forward, so there is great team work,” Marie-Jeanne said.
“I am a game lover. At home, I will spend most of my spare time playing video games and apart from that I like watching environmental documentaries, especially those in relation with the sea. Sometimes I do go out if the weather is good and I would organise small fishing trips with my friends or else we would go and socialise somewhere. At times, I also like to do some cooking and my best dishes are à la base of either fish or octopus,” she added.
Encouragement to other women
“I would like to encourage other young women to take the challenge and take the navigation career. There are some girls who do start but give up at some point. Every job has its difficulties but in the first place you must clearly decide if it is really the career you want and then you put your mind into it. If you stay focus, with determination, you will succeed. This was what I did. Navigation is not only for men. There are many women who are commanding big vessels as captains in the world and we have the possibility to do it in Seychelles. This is what I am aspiring to be in the future. I want to be a captain. Nothing is impossible in life if you put your mind and passion into it and if you show that you are interested in something, people will help you. And this is also how I got started, by showing I was interested and people believed in me,” she concluded.