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Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Celebrating Women's Contributions to Maritime Safety: Insights from the SMMI Panel Event

SMMI and panel speakers group photo
Women in Maritime Panel Event speakers with the SMMI team

On Monday, 13 May 2024, the Southampton Marine & Maritime Institute (SMMI) hosted a special panel event featuring three of our own experts at the University of Southampton working towards safer futures in maritime.

This event was held ahead of the IMO International Day for Women in Maritime , on Saturday, 18 May 2024, to celebrate women in the industry, highlight the work they do, and promote discussion around gender imbalances and how these can be addressed.

In line with this year’s theme, “Safe Horizons – Women shaping the future of maritime safety”, the panel brought together leading voices, from different disciplines and career stages, working in various aspects of maritime safety. They shared about their research and work as relates to the theme, as well as the route they took to get to where they are, including challenges and opportunities they faced being women in a male-dominated field.

Panel event discussion
SMMI Panel Event: Safe Horizons – Women shaping the future of Maritime

On the panel were: Dhwani Oakley , PhD Student in Maritime Engineering; Dr Alexandra Karamitrou , Research Fellow in Archaeology; and Dr Johanna Hjalmarsson , Associate Professor in Maritime Law. Each speaker brought a unique perspective, sharing valuable insights from their experience and contributions to the sector.

Chairing the panel was Professor Susan Gourvenec , SMMI Deputy Director, Professor of Offshore Geotechnical Engineering and Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies – Intelligent & Resilient Ocean Engineering ( IROE ).

Dhwani Oakley headshot
Dhwani Oakley, PhD Student in Maritime Engineering

Dhwani Oakley ’s research focuses on the application of ergonomics and human factors in ship design. Dhwani emphasized the importance of human-centred design (HCD) in the present day and for the future.

"The maritime industry is experiencing a technological (r)evolution and now, more than ever, we need to work together to ensure that the progress we've made on gender equity across the sector continues into the future.” shared Dhwani.

"As innovations in autonomy, digitalisation, connectivity, and smart shipping continue to rapidly develop, transforming the world and the way we work, it will be increasingly important to ensure that our future legislation, regulations and standards, which govern the design and operation of ships and shipboard equipment, consider diverse perspectives and recognise the specific challenges women face both at sea and on shore."

Alexandra Karamitrou headshot
Dr Alexandra Karamitrou, Research Fellow in Archaeology

As part of her research, Dr Alexandra Karamitrou works to achieve safer decommissioning of offshore infrastructure and ships: establishing a global baseline and raising awareness to help deliver safety improvements. Decommissioning of offshore assets refers to the process of safely and responsibly removing offshore structures such as ships, oil and gas platforms, or wind turbines at the end of their operational life.

"In the domain of decommissioning, my role is to harness the power of artificial intelligence, orchestrating the seamless retirement of offshore assets with precision, efficiency, and environmental mindfulness, paving the way for a safer, smarter, and more sustainable maritime industry."

When offshore assets reach the end of their use life, instead of ending in qualified decommissioning facilities they often end up in yards in developing countries. Decommissioning in such places thrives from low-cost labour, relaxed environmental laws and non-existent worker health and safety regulations. These factors contribute to the risks involved in shipbreaking, which, according to the International Labour Organisation, is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. To address some of these challenges, Alexandra and colleagues are working to improve transparency around decommissioning, developing models to detect and map platforms globally and to predict when ships will reach the end of their life. By making these data publicly available, the team are facilitating responsible and sustainable decommissioning practices, and ultimately benefiting the wider industry, the environment, and the health of the workers involved in these operations.

Johanna Hjalmarsson headshot
Dr Johanna Hjalmarsson, Associate Professor in Maritime Law

Doctor Johanna Hjalmarsson discussed her contributions to safer maritime futures through legal frameworks and policy research. With a background that includes a law degree from Stockholm University, experience as a junior judge, and roles at international organizations, Johanna has a rich expertise in maritime law. She emphasized the critical role of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and conventions like SOLAS and the Collision Regulations in setting safety standards.

Johanna highlighted the enforcement role of flag and port state control, classification societies, and marine insurers in ensuring compliance. She also discussed legal responses to maritime incidents, underscoring the importance of a robust legal framework.

"On IMO's International Day for Women in Maritime, there is a lot to celebrate in the increased opportunities and achievements of women in the sector” reflected Johanna. “Going forward, we can continue to work on ship and equipment design, working conditions and law, rules and standards that are inclusive and supportive of all those wanting to work in the maritime industry."

Johanna's work exemplifies how legal expertise and inclusive policies can enhance maritime safety and support the growing role of women in the industry.

The audience of students and academics responded enthusiastically to the panellists’ excellent and varied presentations. The Q&A session opened the floor to a meaningful and thought-provoking discussion, both with regards to the panellists’ research and technical insights with regards to women in maritime and their experience as women making their way in their respective fields. The event concluded with a call to continue the conversation beyond the event that day, for continued efforts to account for and promote the place of women in maritime domains, and for advocacy and support for women in the industry generally.

The event was organized by the Southampton Marine & Maritime Institute , in partnership with Maritime Engineering and Boldrewood Lunchtime Seminars .

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