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It’s great to be Sri Lanka’s first female seafarer

A partnership between the International Labour Organization and Sri Lanka’s Mahapola Port and Martime Academy has led to Nayomi Amarasinghe becoming the country’s first female seafarer.

News | Sri Lanka | 08 March 2023
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (ILO News) – Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has affected the businesses, jobs and incomes of thousands of workers and families who struggle to make ends meet. In the midst of this, Nayomi Amarasinghe has become the country’s first female seafarer, after she took part in an ILO-supported training course, then landed a job with the Carnival Cruise Line.

"I'm overjoyed that I was able to overcome the gender barrier that prevented me from becoming a seafarer," Nayomi told ILO. "My love for the maritime industry is evident from the tattoo on my forearm." She proudly showed a tattoo of an anchor on her wrist.

After completing her secondary education, Nayomi wanted to become a journalist. She thought journalism would be her career path. Upon attending multiple training courses in journalism, Nayomi could not find a job as a journalist. She did not give up. She joined her sister, who is running her own business, and helped her on a daily basis. Later, Nayomi realised doing business was not her cup of tea. She decided to move on.

"Then I decided I wanted to become a hairdresser," Nayomi recalled her memories. With the intention of becoming a hairdresser, she started following a hairdressing course. While following the hairdressing course, she learned about a seafarer training opportunity offered by the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka (NUSS) at the Mahapola Port and Maritime Academy with the support of the International Labour Organization.

Nayomi Amarasinghe
The ILO’s “Skilling Sri Lankan Migrant Workers Affected by COVID-19 for Employment, Decent Jobs, and Entrepreneurship Project” facilitated the upskilling of returnee and aspiring migrant workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting lucrative and decent employment opportunities in the maritime sector, by engaging with the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka (NUSS). NUSS linked up with the national Mahapola Academy that trained 21 young males and 3 young females in the niche vocation of seafaring.

"I got to know about the NUSS through Ms. Manel Athukorala," one of the frontline members of the NUSS.

NUSS is an independent trade union of Sri Lankan seafarers and a port of call for the Sri Lankan seafarer community, always providing safety, security, and protection in the choppy maritime world with due recognition and respect for workers rights and dignity.

Nayomi’s parents never wanted their daughter to follow a seafarer training programme.

"My two brothers are serving in the Sri Lanka Navy. It was an effort to get the blessings from my parents to enter the maritime academy", Nayomi says. "It's difficult to work in this industry, especially if you are a woman." Nayomi recalled her parents' views on the maritime industry.

Nayomi received excellent training from the two leading trainers in the academy, Mr. Kishan Maduranga and Captain Gamini Wilson. "I was able to effectively complete my learning programme as a result of these two mentors," Nayomi said.

During the training, Nayomi was able to gather knowledge on her role as a seafarer, a usually male dominated profession, and how to carry out responsibilities on a ship. Through her pre-sea training duties, Nayomi realised that safety was the utmost priority. "I've also received emergency operations training, so I know what steps to take when anchoring a ship."

"My learning period was filled with many challenges. I was subject to much criticism from individuals, including my family members, for working in the maritime industry, and many of them didn’t have confidence in my ability to perform my job as a woman. Thanks to these criticisms, which motivate me strongly to finish my training programme." Nayomi showed her confidence.

"Now I'm overjoyed that I was given this chance, overcame the gender barrier that prevented me from becoming a seafarer". 

For more information please contact:

Mr. Asitha Seneviratne, ILO Country Office for Sri Lanka and the Maldives: asitha@ilo.org, Tel: + 94112592525