Women in Maritime: Joanna Piotrowska – Operations Director, Manx Ocean Crewing

In the first of our ‘Women in Maritime’ features of 2021, we speak to Joanna Piotrowska, Operations Director at Manx Ocean Crewing, about growing up in a family of maritime workers and how it shaped her path into a maritime career of her own.  

Joanna (Asia to her friends) grew up in the Polish town of Gdynia, on the Baltic Sea. With many family members working at sea or in the shipyards, Joanna always had a close affinity to the shipping world.

Having graduated at economic college, she then attended Gdansk University to study law, specialising in maritime law. When she finished university, Asia’s passion for travel and curiosity to experience different cultures, led her to the Isle of Man.

Today, Joanna is the Operations Director at Manx Ocean Crewing Limited, a crewing company based in Port St Mary, Isle of Man. With a passion for people an services, Asia works among a team consisting predominantly of women, where they manage up to 500 crew at sea, at any one time. Although she does point out that the team would be unable to perform as well as they do, without the close relationships and support of Manx Ocean’s Managing Director, Russ Kent and Capt. Bernd Thielemeier back in the office, and their colleagues at sea.

Asia, with your family background so long-established in the maritime world, do you think a career in maritime was always your destiny?

Being born and bred on the Baltic coast with shipping on my door step, it was rather clear that any path I took would lead me to the maritime sector. But, when I started working in crewing at the age of 19, whilst commencing my studies at the same time, I knew then that it was my destiny and dream to explore all possible angles of shipping at different levels.

Tell us a bit more about your experiences working with Manx Ocean Crewing?

Manx Ocean Crewing became a big part of my life as soon as I came to the Island.

When I was introduced to the company, I was well received and made very welcome among the team, something that I feel is very important for success in our working lives.

This is extended to our teams around the globe, in particular those based in Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Baltic state countries, Myanmar & the Philippines.

Crewing is a very vibrant part of maritime life. In my opinion, it is the heart of shipping. Without people, one couldn’t operate ships and without ships, we wouldn’t be here, so it is important that all of the different parts work as good as a well oiled machine.

The Crew are our eyes at sea, they perform the most difficult tasks out of all, far away from their families and often for extended periods of time. It is for this reason, I truly believe that the management and
shore based authorities need to be there to support those at sea, assisting them to find solutions to any problems and challenges they might be facing.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career to date?

Getting to know different cultures, meeting people, working alongside them, witnessing their success as they grown from being a Cadet to a Captain of the ship, or starting as a deck officer, cleaning the engine to becoming a successful Chief Engineer or even Superintendent!

Also, being able to overcome challenges and succeed in difficult matters throughout the years of service in shipping.

Lots of people dream about travelling and/or working overseas once they complete their studies. As someone who has done this, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of following in your footsteps?

Anyone dreaming of travelling and working overseas needs to be brave to start with, communicative and flexible.

Some people might find it difficult to leave their family and friends behind, so it is important to know your strengths and weaknesses. Be open minded and sustain a positive can-do attitude!

The coronavirus pandemic has affected us all to different degrees. How are you and the team at Manx Ocean Crewing dealing with the current situation, and what are your plans for the future with the vaccines now being rolled out?

The covid-19 pandemic has absolutely tested limits on the scale, that not I, the team or crews have ever experienced in our lifetime. From country to country, authority to authority, we have all been trying to address and overcome all sorts of difficulties.

It also showed us how fragile life is, how dependant on one another we are.

We continue to operate our business as best we can and hope that the vaccines in will begin to bring some sort of normality back on a global scale so that everyone can start to enjoy their lives like they did pre-covid.

I often think about how very fortunate we have been compared to others and in particular, how well the COVID-19 situation was managed here on the Isle of Man.

Travel is such an important element of building a successful business, how do you see this changing as the world (hopefully) returns to some sort of normality?

I think it will still take considerable time before we can go back to what I would call a “full normal” but with the vaccines being rolled out there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, as a successful woman working within the Island’s maritime sector, what do you think the Island’s maritime community should be doing to attract more women to join this sector?

I believe the maritime sector needs to recognise the strength and versatility that women offer. After many years on the Island, I know that there is a high level of expertise and excellence here across different areas of maritime. We should open the doors to women who want to start a career in shipping and allow and encourage them to flourish.

In my opinion, it would be ideal if, with the help of the Isle of Man Government, and the recognition of Isle of Man Maritime, we could establish some training and education programmes that might involve partial training abroad at port logistics, in husbandry, chartering, crewing, insurance, accounts, technical management and of course certain elements of maritime law!

It would without doubt benefit the Isle of Man economy for years to come.

Keep an eye out for more upcoming “Isle of Women in Maritime” features, as we continue to celebrate our Island’s female maritime professionals that continue to help shape, lead and make an impact in the Isle of Man’s maritime sector.