Tugmaster is making waves
Transnet tugmaster Lindile Mdletshe (30) commands the powerful boats that are used to assist ship movements in the Port of Durban. While small in size, tugboats are extremely powerful watercrafts and their handling takes much skill.
Mdletshe was born and bred in Port Shepstone and schooled at St Faiths.
“It was quite an experience where one grew up. There was no fear, unlike these days and everyone was raised by a village.”
Mdletshe completed matric in 2006, before heading off to the Durban University of Technology to study a National Diploma in Mari- time Studies in 2007.
After completing her S1 in 2007 and her S2 in 2008 she com- menced her three-year training at sea with Safmarine Shipping Company. Here she learnt how to navigate a cargo ship in high seas and stopped at various ports in Europe, Africa and Asia for cargo operations and safety surveys.
She obtained her first degree at the age of 25, while completing her Port Operations Master’s degree at the same time. The latter certified her as a qualified tugmaster.
“This was the biggest challenge because being a tugmaster does not require one to have a degree, only S1, S2 and training at sea. Only after this do people usually enrol to become a tugmaster. I did both at the same time. After work, I would go to school and catch up on the curriculum that was done that day,” she said. Mdletshe loves being on the water. “The water can tell you so much about what the day ahead will bring. Some days it’s calm; other days it’s rough and sometimes there are swells, so it’s a great dynamic world! Ships also have different shapes and carry different cargo, which means they have to be handled differently,” said Mdletshe, who enjoys working with multicultural crews, from various countries.
A challenging world
Being a woman in the maritime in- dustry is “a challenging world”, said Mdletshe, who cites gender-based issues as one of the biggest chal- lenges as it is still largely considered a man’s world.
“As much as women try to blend Tugmaster Lindile Mdletshe knows how to take command.
in and work hard to prove people wrong, it can be draining. I over- came this by remaining calm, hav- ing a positive attitude and working with people to earn their respect. With a persistent and diligent effort, you can overcome these obstacles,” she said.
Mdletshe’s success at overcom- ing these obstacles is evident in the award she won as acting marine technical manager.“I received an award for being the best achiever in short space of time because I passed an audit within the first week of acting in the position.” She also received the award of 'being a hero’ in October 2017, for saving ships from the worst storm Durban had ever seen.
Another challenge, which Md- letshe finds quite funny, is that the uniform she has to wear is designed for men.“Even now, they still design these uniforms to best fit men,” she laughed.
“Being a tugmaster means that you sometimes have to put your big-girl pants on and be coura- geous. Usually, it is only when you are not at work that you can you
put your skirt back on and act like a lady,” she said.
Obtaining her Master’s degree made all the difference.“Getting my degree ensured more respect from my male colleagues. They ask me every day what I am busy with because there are only two of us who have gone this far and I was the first to complete the Maritime Diploma at the Port of Durban. This alone made me stand out,” she said, explaining that maritime studies is not an easy programme to study. “Some days you feel like giving up. But, because I knew the benefits, I was courageous enough to con- tinue. As much as you have to ‘put on pants’, you also have to show your lady-like character sometimes. Many of my male colleagues respect women’s opinions and they do believe in me,” said Mdletshe, who is the only young African woman on her shift.
Taking advice to heart
Mdletshe received support from her former manager, a woman who told her that she needs to stand up for herself and never tolerate bullying because it undermines you and takes your confidence away.
“I implemented her advice imme- diately, to make our shift the best, and today I am in the acting posi- tion of shift manager. When our manager left my male colleagues chose me to lead the shift, due to the skills and knowledge that I have obtained. They even mention how well I am able to handle the worst situations that we experi- ence,” she said.
Mdletshe cites her greatest milestone as obtaining her Master of Business Administration degree in 2017.“This gave me more insight into running a marine business and understanding the entire supply chain. It was not easy at all, study- ing while working full-time − including 12-hour night shifts − but with dedication, all is possible,” she said. Looking ahead, Mdletshe has her sights set on becoming a specialist
in or researcher of marine inci- dents.“I decided this while doing research from my MBA. I would like to do further research as it is a broad and sensitive subject in the industry,” she added. Alternatively, she is also considering becoming an industry professor in order to pass on her knowledge to the “young ones”.
Role of a tugmaster
Mdletshe explains that a tugmaster is in overall command of the craft and the people onboard.
She must ensure that the safety and fire equipment are in good condition and certified, conduct an annual safety survey of the craft, ensure the crew get proper training and sign their training books, conduct performance management reviews and help her employees to put together a development programme in line with their career paths, enforce company policies and manage stores and place orders for equipment.
Mdletshe’s typical work day starts with a list of shipping movements, all of which have to be completed by the end of shift.“We start with shipping work at 06h00 and end at 17h50. Typically, two tugs work together, and each completes about eight jobs. Thereafter, we have to complete all of the pa- perwork. In emergency cases, we sometimes only finish work after 21h00,” she said.