Tug master Mdletshe in command

As a Transnet tug master, Lindile Mdletshe commands the powerful boats used to assist ship movements in the Port of Durban.

While small in size, tugboats are extremely powerful and their handling takes much skill. Mdletshe, 30, was born and bred in Port Shepstone and schooled at St Faiths. "It was quite an experience where I 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 maritime studies.

After completing her S1 in 2007 and her S2 in 2008, she commenced 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 tug master.

"This was the biggest challenge because being a tug master 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 tug master. I did both at the same time. After work, I would go to school and catch up on that day's curriculum."

Mdletshe loves being close to the ocean. "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.

Being a woman in the industry is "a challenging world," she said, as it is still largely considered a man's world. "As much as women try to blend in and work hard to prove people wrong, it can be draining. I overcame this by remaining calm, having a positive attitude and working with people to earn their respect. With a persistent and diligent effort, you can overcome these obstacles."

Mdletshe's success is evident in the award she won as acting marine technical manager. "I received an award for being the best achiever in a 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 last year, for saving ships from the worst storm Durban had seen. "Being a tug master means that you sometimes have to put your big-girl pants on and be courageous."

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.

Mdletshe said a tug master is in overall command of the craft and the people on board.

Her typical work day starts with a list of shipping movements, to be completed by the end of shift. "We start at 6am and end at 5.50pm. Typically, two tugs work together [on] about eight jobs. Thereafter, we complete all the paperwork."

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