A female’s perspective of being a Maritime Security Operative in the HRA.
An exclusive interview with Ruth Tiik
I first met Ruth several months ago on a floating platform in the Red Sea where we and many others were stuck for several days waiting for our next task, I was then fortunate enough to then sail with Ruth back to port where we got chatting, I was interested in how she got involved in the maritime industry, as she was the first girl I’d met on the maritime circuit in 2 and half years.
Once I got chatting and only after a short time I found her to be an interesting character with a good sense of humour and a bit of a hidden past.
She was wanted for murder!
Only joking. If there are any other ladies out there who I haven’t met yet, working the maritime circuit in the HRA, I give my sincere apologies now. Though it seems like I’m not alone, no one else I have spoken to over the last few years have met any either. I have come across females before on the circuit, in the UK, and I have several female friends that had previously worked in Afghanistan and Iraq, but I have never met any women in maritime security, other than CP client-based women who occasionally get on their employer’s superyachts. So I was quite interested in speaking to her and getting her viewpoint, as a woman, on what it’s like to work in the maritime High-Risk Area on commercial vessels.
Once I got to know Ruth and did some digging, I found that she has been a bit of a celebrity back in her home country of Estonia. Having initially been refused the right to go to the frontline in an Infantry role, she was so frustrated that she battled with the Ministry of Defence for her equal rights and eventually won her case, and as a result, ended up getting her wish to go front line. Yeah, she is slightly mad. Publicity accompanied her on her return, a magazines feature and an interview on a national TV station. She was a fairly quiet girl on the vessel when I met her, (at first) probably as she had so many blokes looking at her. The Internet room on the ship had never been so busy when she went to use her laptop! But once you get to know her she is a good laugh. Her favourite English phrase is “WTF” which she uses a lot and makes for a very amusing conversation.
Why did you want to get involved with maritime security?
“Basically, I love adventure I wanted to see more of the world. I had served in Afghanistan and Iraq and didn’t want to miss out on seeing Africa as well”.
Did you have military experience prior to working in maritime security?
”Yes, I joined the army when I was 19 and ended up serving in Iraq, and then went straight to Afghanistan after that, I must have upset someone in the government! I had various jobs, my main job being a rifleman and a driver in an Infantry unit. I also worked alongside the Swedes as part of their Nordic Battlegroup training for arctic warfare in Sweden. Some of us were approached by a company from the United States and asked us if we wanted to do security work at sea, so I said “Yes”.
What was your role in the military, and where did you serve?
“After graduating from school, all Estonian men have to serve in the military, it used to be around 8 months but now its 11 months. Women don’t have to do this, but I wanted to, so I applied and I joined the army, I didn’t want to do the normal jobs that females had carried out before and I applied to join the infantry. Girls normally did medical roles and office jobs, non-combat. It is a long story, but as I wasn’t classed as a conscript which is only for men and I was going into the professional army I was entitled to have the same rights as the men, so that way I could join Infantry, so basically I was their first female, after a lot of arguing I got to serve in Iraq, after that 2 more girls joined. We were the last Estonian troops to serve in Iraq. It wasn’t easy proving myself to my male colleagues, but I had to prove it to myself just as much, to show that I could do it. My Mom always said I was a bit of a “tomboy”. But more and more girls are now joining so that is good.
What age are you now and how long have you been working the maritime circuit?
“I am 27 and joined the army when I was 19. I left the army in 2011 and I have been doing maritime security for almost a year now”.
How do you find being at sea?
“There are some good things and some bad things. Fresh air at sea is good and so is not having any landmines or IED’s, also there’s less uniform and kit to keep prepared. However, I have too much time on my hands at sea, and I am someone who likes to keep active which I can’t always do. If I have too long to ponder about things that I want to do, I can get frustrated”.
What does your family think about your choice of vocation?
“My Mom and 2 sisters are happy I am at sea as it’s safer than being in the army and they are used to me being away but we all miss each other. I was always the “Tomboy” in the family so I don’t think it surprised them too much when I wanted to go in to the army. They are happy for me, and very happy I am away from Afghanistan. They’re very understanding and we keep in touch with Skype as much as possible though so I don’t feel too far away”!
What has been your best transit?
“That is a hard question as every transit has good and sometimes bad points. But my most interesting transit was where we had contact with pirates”.
Best country you have visited?
“It has to be Sri Lanka and Mozambique; I like them both very much”.
“It’s difficult as we change teams all the time and don’t always get to know each other very well. The rivalry comes when we come to shoot. I am quite a good shot so I’m often as good as, or better than some of the guys so that helps. I think because I have served on the front line as well I get on okay with them because of that. There isn’t too much rivalry, we generally work well as a team”.
What do you do to keep yourself from getting bored on the ship?
“Mainly just watch movies, I am an active person and like to do sport, I used to run a lot when I was in the army but not so much now as I can’t run on ship but I do as much fitness as possible”.
There are still very few woman serving as crew on ships and you are the only female I have met in this area doing maritime security, have you met any hostility because you are a woman?
“No, actually, quite the opposite, everyone is always very friendly to me and I think they are shocked, as they often haven’t seen a female doing security before.
There are things we all miss from home when we are at sea, what is yours?
“Friends, food and roller-skating”.
What is the one item you can’t leave home without when you go away?
“This may sound a bit manly, but my Leatherman, even when I went to Hawaii for vacation I took it with me, it goes everywhere! Suppose that’s the Tomboy bit of me”!
Have you met any other females on the maritime security circuit?
“No, I hear about other girls doing CP stuff, but only on land, I have never bumped into any others doing the maritime stuff down here”.
As this article went to print there were 357 registered companies signed up to the International Code of Conduct and many, including you as the reader will have views on contracting females in hostile environments. Ruth’s path has not always been easy but she has some funny stories from along. Has Ruth paved the way for other females to join the industry? What does the main threat come from? Pirates?
Is it fair to say that female operators with the correct experience and training might be suited to work in certain areas of the maritime security industry? They are certainly working elsewhere within the industry, so why not here and in some cases it’s less demanding physically than land based, so what holds them back?
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has an active campaign to encourage females to enter the Shipping Industry, but we would be naïve to think it is not without its issues. You will all clearly have opinions, and you just need to look at some of the security industry websites to read them, but does that mean women can’t do the job? I know blokes that I don’t think are up to it, so maybe it’s not just gender-based and maybe it’s as much about ability, regardless of sex. But there are clearly other considerations that need to be taken into account which are far more applicable. All we can ask is “Has Ruth paved the way for other females to join the maritime sector”?
Is it a suitable environment for female operatives? Ruth’s experiences sound very positive and it certainly hasn’t had an adverse effect on her, so will she lead the way? Only time will tell.
I would like to thank Ruth for her time in speaking to me and continuing to keep in touch.
By Scott D