Cpt. Preben Hall

Captain Preben Hall discusses why Diversity and Inclusion is as much a question of safety as it is about positive representation, as well as the benefits of embracing the full spectrum of capabilities in a diverse team.

On a hot, sunny and busy January day aboard Mærsk Launcher, conducting heading control of an FPSO in Brazil, an email popped up on my mobile that caught my attention. It was a motor hobbyists’ newsletter with the latest the car industry updates – and an article headline that particularly caught my eye:

 “Are Cars Less Safe for Women?”

I was immediately well aware of what this article was referencing – and I was right. It was the fantastic book written by Caroline Criado Perez, “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”, which many of you may already be familiar with. It is a book that exposes how the gender data gap results in half the population being systematically excluded across multiple industries, sectors and elements of our everyday lives.

The article picked up on a particular chapter from the book, in which Perez illustrates how women are at a statistically greater risk of harm in cars than men. There are many reasons for this, and even today in 2023, the car industry cannot say that they are producing cars that are equally as safe for women as for men. What makes the situation complicated is also statistical data from USA that cannot be directly compared with data from e.g. Europe. But one American example is that women are more likely to be driving smaller, older cars than men, who are more likely to be found in big-wheeled trucks or SUVs. This means women are more exposed and, since many collisions involve smaller cars with larger, faster cars crashing into them from behind, it follows that a woman in USA has a 47% higher risk of being seriously injured and a 17% higher risk of being killed in a car than a man.

Why am I sharing all this information with our seafaring community now?

Simply, because we have to learn from such articles and books about differences between us. And I don’t mean the differences based on stereotypes of gender, culture, race, etc., but how our differences alter how we all navigate the world – and how the structures of our society (transport, medical care, employment) have been built to benefit certain groups of people above others. When our differences are perceived as opportunities rather than limitations, they can be viewed as a full spectrum of capabilities that should be utilized and focused on by any team working well together. Some of us have been brought up close to the sea, enabling us to train in small sailboats from a young age and giving skills to stay at sea.  Others may come from landlocked countries with a totally different lifestyle and development of skills, that one day may lead to assist another person to survive in a critical situation. The real question: is each person being given the chance to contribute fully with their unique diversity?

When we perform our daily management tasks onboard our vessels, we continually bump into this wonderful diversity of humanity (I prefer the word ‘humanity’ to ‘mankind’). If we really want to ensure the inclusion of all our colleagues onboard, and to promote a good work environment, we will find that diversity can easily be utilized proactively in our daily routines, making the jobs safer, smarter and more environment friendly – and often more fun and meaningful, too.

Returning to the car industry

Why, I wonder, did the car industry not face reality in its production of cars that were less safe for women, and maybe still hasn’t fully to this day? Imagine if the engineers (who are mostly men) had realized, they could sell more cars if they found evidence in their design that made it safer for pregnant women to be behind the steering wheel of their improved car design! Imagine the branding for such a car – and imagine the number of women that would buy that design, when a new car is in scope. It would maybe get us to re-think, why we do not include ALL genders equally!

Another question could be raised here – does the shipping industry the same challenge?

What is our status in the shipping industry for now?

A few days ago, I learned that one of our female seafarers could not open a fire-door, simply because the air pressure on the opposite side of the door sucked it into the frame. There was no device to support her opening of the door, she simply did not have the strength to pull it open!

An experience like this may be prevented in a future ship design. Female seafarers are often not fully integrated to a shipbuilding planning process. It is not sufficient just to be invited for one or two afternoon meetings showing the overall design – the process should draw on the knowledge of people with hands-on experience right from the outset, to reach a gender equal design.

We recently heard that a Female Sounding Board has been established at Maersk Supply Service. I was exorbitantly happy and proud when I heard this news, as this is a very positive step forwards for us all to focus on some of the challenges we have, utilizing a professional and visual inclusion and promoting diversity. To me, it’s not the fact of creating a women-only space that is the news here, but that fact that our company is prioritising and focusing on this issue. Creating a professional space to allow women’s voices to be fully heard in a work-related forum, and dedicating time and resource to this effort, that is the news to me. If some members of the sounding board are also invited to participate with their points of view in e.g. a ship design, we will have come very far….!

I believe the diversity and inclusion focus is something we should all keep in mind in our daily work at MSS. I have exercised the focus myself during the many campaigns we have worked on in the Pacific with Mærsk Launcher. Up to 16 women and 43 men – 16 different nationalities and multiple languages being spoken onboard – all in an atmosphere where inclusion, respect and fun was the daily routine. Everybody contributed with their unique capacity and training, and went the extra mile if it was needed. The approach to Diversity and Inclusion was always explained for all in the first safety meetings onboard, and became quickly clear, everybody easily understood the idea and was always fully supportive.

CPT Preben Hall

The Book by Caroline Criado Perez. Please do read this fantastic book.


Reaching a radio can be hard for our 2/O Amanda – or opening a sliding door on the bridge require full power.

Share This Story