A conversation with Captain Maria Kristina B. Javellana, the Philippines’ first female master

Captain Maria Kristina B. Javellana joined V.Group in 2016. Born in Silay City in the Philippines province of Negros Occidental, Captain Maria is the first Filipina woman to take command of a merchant vessel – a feat she accomplished back in May 2017. In this interview we talk to her about the highlights, and also the challenges, of her career so far, and what it means to be a role model for other women in the maritime industry.

How does it feel to be the first Filipino woman to take command of a merchant ship?

I never thought that I would be the first. Taking command was not a competition to me but rather it was the ultimate goal in my career. Being the first, per se, is overwhelming. I’ve received lots of best wishes and congratulations from people who have been inspired and motivated by me. It is such a great honour to receive recognition from around the world for being the first female Filipina captain.

What attracted you to the maritime industry?

We can’t deny the promising salary it offers to us compared to other onshore jobs, but this industry is very well suited with my personality. It offers global travel, unexpected challenges, and working with people from different cultures and traditions. In this field, you just don’t grow in one aspect of your life. It teaches you to become more diversified in your chosen profession, and in your life more generally.

What are your favourite aspects of your role?

Being a captain involves being a leader and a trainer at the same time. One of my greatest rewards in this field is to impart what I have learned and experienced to my fellow sea personnel, juniors and cadets. I also love to deal with challenges onboard;  I have to be alert at all times because decision-making is part of my daily responsibilities.

What attracted you to applying for a role with V.Group?

V.Group is one of the most well-diversified ship management companies in the industry, which gives an equal opportunity for everybody, not just only at sea but on shore as well.

Can you explain what a typical day for you looks like?

A typical day for me can have a general routine. When at sea, we start with our tool box meeting with the whole team based on our planned jobs to be carried out. I have to monitor and answer emails and verify all the work that is being carried out onboard. During breaks, we have short informal safety talks so that everybody is always up to date on the latest regulations. We also have time for social gatherings for long voyages such as using the gym or watching movies with the crew.

When the vessel is in port, however, our day can look completely different. This is where most of the action is, with constant cargo operations, shifting, manoeuvring, inspections, services. Only if time allows do we get a chance to go ashore.

Can you tell us some highlights of your career?

One of the highlights of my career so far was when I took command as a master of the vessel. It was the most unforgettable experience, particularly when experiencing so many challenges onboard, which my team and I have overcome together.

What are your future aspirations?

I would really like the shipping industry to have true gender equality, where sexuality and gender would never be an issue to go onboard. As for myself, I will continue to work in this field, not only at sea but also onshore. I want to broaden my expertise and experience both at sea and onshore, and impart my knowledge to the future generations of seafarers.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your job and how do you overcome them?

Honestly, the biggest challenge is because of our gender. We have suffered with a lot of discrimination and harassment, whether it has been physical, emotional, mental, or sexual.

Even if you are already at the top of your rank, there are still some people who will prejudge you because you are a woman, rather than your capability to deliver the job that is required. I don’t consider things which I do not know as a form of weakness but rather I always look at it as a challenge, as long as I am striving and doing my best effort to do the right thing and to overcome it.

When I am being challenged, I always use it as a positive experience as I believe you must always attract positive vibes to have a positive result. My motto is life is “Do not quit – when things go wrong, as they sometimes will, rest if you must, but do not quit.”

What’s would be your message to women considering a career in the maritime industry?

My message to those considering a career in the maritime industry is that they must be prepared not just physically and intellectually, but emotionally and spiritually. Life at sea is not about the money; it’s about the reality of working alone and being oceans apart from your loved ones.

Never use your gender as a form of excuse. Instead carry out your role as is expected of you. Also, always think what kind of legacy you are going to leave behind to your subordinates or the next generation to come.