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Former first officer Hazel Sivori talks transitioning ashore to research maritime technology

6 March 2020

First officer and now postgraduate researcher in maritime technology Hazel Sivori gives some insights into her new role on coming ashore for the ENHANCE project – European research into human performance in high risk industries, including maritime

What is a typical day in your job?

I sailed to first officer, safety officer and senior dynamic positioning operator (DPO), and now I am a postgraduate researcher in the Faculty of Engineering and Technology for Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), undertaking a PhD in Maritime Technology.

A typical day in the life of a researcher can vary. My days are dedicated to the current stream of research activity. Recently I returned from a secondment to Kongsberg Digital in Norway. During the five-month post, I engaged with active seafarers, navigation simulator trainers, classification societies and manufacturers of technology. By conducting data collection activities and onboard visits, I contributed towards the ENHANCE project – a European project which LJMU is involved in, led by the University of South-Eastern Norway. The objective has been to enhance human performance in complex socio-technical systems in high risks industries such as nuclear, process and maritime domains. Since returning from that trip, I am collaborating with researchers and analysing data.

Why did you choose a career at sea?

I grew up in a fishing town with the initial intention of joining the military. After some time spent in the Air Cadets, I settled on a seagoing career being inspired by some of the staff members who had served on submarines.

My father was a skipper of fishing boats and trawlers. His father was also a fisherman and worked on standby vessels.

I got my A-levels and worked in different hospitality and labouring jobs before joining Fleetwood Nautical Campus at the age of 19.

Tell us some of your career highlights so far – and challenges

I have worked within dry bulk and general cargo, containerisation, offshore oil and gas sectors; onboard vessels carrying out subsea construction, dive support, rigid pipelay, heavy lift, and flex lay operations.

Shore-side I have worked in software consultancy, training, project management, planning services in a container division and now conducting research into human factors in maritime.

Some of the highlights of my career [while at sea] have been, a dry dock and refit during Christmas and New year in Denmark.

Taking part in Sim-ops offshore Brazil and achieving great engineering feats, doing ultra-shallow rigid pipelaying in the challenging environment of Sullom Voe, Shetland Islands, were also highlights.

As was being able to work on the shore side operation of freight transport and being onboard to conduct research on a state of the art ferry, crossing on the Oslo Fjord on a beautiful winters day.

I think it is important to recognise that there are many challenges that a seafarer faces, irrespective of gender. The most helpful lessons from college prior to joining my first ship was an informal talk by a lecturer who spoke frankly and openly about some of the challenges that lay ahead. Managing expectations was critical to being equipped for going away from home, in an unfamiliar environment for five months, with crews of different cultural beliefs and understandings. Most important though, was how to keep yourself and colleagues safe.

In my experiences at sea, female seafarers find different coping strategies to manage the fact they happen to be female. Some women embrace their femininity and allow for reasonable adjustments to be made, relating to strength or physical ability. Some women prefer to challenge those adjustments, or where no adjustments are made by colleagues, work extremely hard in order to demonstrate they are just as capable as their male colleagues, if not better.

In the latter stages of my career, I settled with a combination of strategies. The fact that I was an officer on board a vessel doing a job, who happened to be female became less important. Doing the job well was my only focus.

Knowing your limitations is important and knowing when to seek help is critical. Whether that is getting support from the boson and ABs for getting heavy items moved, or working together with a colleague during safety-critical operations. Knowing that asking for help at the right time, is what a professional would do, and it ought not to be felt as a weakness.

When I was a trainee officer onboard a general cargo vessel, one of the crew members tried to enter my cabin while I was taking a shower. This was the first violation of privacy I would experience at sea. Naturally, I didn't feel equipped to deal with this situation, so I confided in a colleague. That person advocated for me when I didn't feel able and complained to the captain on my behalf.

Having someone to confide in and building strong friendships and relationships onboard has always helped me in a crisis. Due to the unique nature of working and living onboard a ship for prolonged periods requires you to be able to get along with and rely on your shipmates, and being able to work civilly with the people you wouldn't ordinarily choose to spend so much time with.

Try also to talk to your loved ones and support network as much as possible and explain what your time spent away looks like to highlight the transitionary nature of your work.

The things I miss the most about being at sea are the camaraderie, working together under extremely challenging situations to achieve something great and experiencing the world in a truly unique way Hazel Sivori, former first officer and postgraduate researcher

How can women be made to feel welcome and retained in a career at sea?

I think women can be made to feel welcome at sea by being recruited in the first place, and into suitable working environments.

What are the best things about your job?

The things I miss the most about being at sea are the camaraderie, working together under extremely challenging situations to achieve something great and experiencing the world in a truly unique way is the best things about being a navigation officer and DPO.

The best things about research work is being able to combine all the operational and practical experience, with scientific knowledge to make working at sea safer and more efficient.

Would you recommend seafaring as a career?

Yes, with a caveat of being fully informed. Attend many careers events, join a youth organisation and equip yourself with the life skills, as well as the academic grades necessary to give yourself the best chance of enjoying a seafaring career. Also, speak to a Careers at Sea Ambassador if you have any questions

I won't be returning to sea but hopefully will continue working in the area of human factors in maritime automation.

Tell us one thing that people may not know about your job

Doing a PhD isn't like another any other academic course. As at sea, there's more than one way to achieve the same goal, only you must be able to academically justify your decisions throughout the research programme.


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