One of the most distinguished women in shipping discusses overcoming gender bias and how she has positioned her company to ride out the current OSV market downturn
While the number of women in the boardrooms of shipping companies has been growing in recent years, there are still only a handful of top female executives at offshore support vessel companies.
“The shipping industry and particularly the offshore sector has always been more of closed-door industry, dominated predominantly by older men,” says Seaport International Shipping (SIS) commercial manager Sanaz Taransari.
For over 10 years, Ms Taransari has been a top female executive in the offshore support vessel industry, responsible for the chartering, sales and purchase and commercial activities of SIS.
Established in 1993, UAE-based SIS is a major regional OSV operator in the Middle East, providing a full range of logistics and support services to the offshore oil and gas industry and marine construction sector. “Most of our vessels operate in the waters around the (Persian) Gulf and a large portion of our fleet is on long-term contracts with leading oil companies,” says Ms Taransari.
While she was exposed to shipping through her family, Ms Taransari says she did not think that would be her career path. “I started working in banking and I thought I would be very passionate about it. However, it was not to be for me. My heart wasn’t in it and I knew I had to make a change.”
While pursuing her MBA from Cass Business School at London City University, she started to develop a keen interest in the offshore sector. “That’s when a whole new world began for me,” she recalls. “Of course, it was quite challenging at first, as I had never worked in the industry,” she says. “However, I quickly adapted as every day brought a new challenge and subsequently a new learning experience. It was indeed a steep learning curve, but nothing worthwhile comes easy. Every vessel has its own characteristics, every project is different, and every day brings something new. This was definitely more exciting than banking!”
One of the biggest challenges for her entering the offshore support vessel market was gender discrimination.
“Many other industries such as real estate, construction and banking are also considered to be male-dominated. There seems to be no end to it. I believe that our gender shapes us, but we should not be discriminated against for it,” she says.
“We will see a separating of the ‘wheat from the chaff’ and a lot of tonnage exiting the market”
Offering words of encouragement and advice for other women looking to pursue a maritime career, Ms Taransari says: “As individuals, we should not be put off by this; we should determine to change this and actively seek out all sorts of opportunities.”
Those opportunities, however, will not come without challenges. “There have been situations in which I have felt people have been hesitant to work with me,” she says. “I have to wonder is it because I’m a woman, I’m young, or simply because they didn’t like my approach or idea. It’s difficult to say.”
The bottom line for Ms Taransari is to stay determined and focused. “When you work hard, are professional, are at the top of your game and present well, you will always be taken seriously, no matter who you are,” she says. “Sometimes I hear women complaining about the lack of support or opportunities for women in the industry, but I strongly believe that one should not expect to be spoon-fed in any industry. If you segregate yourself, you will be segregated.”
Covid-19 creates new paradigm
Now as one of the leading woman executives in the maritime industry, Ms Taransari is faced with one of the greatest challenges of her career.
“Covid-19 has created a new paradigm for the offshore vessel operator, particularly when it comes to crew changes, says Ms Taransari. “With countries on lockdown and flights suspended, it is essentially impossible to perform a crew change,” she says. This has resulted in crews being away from their family and friends for extended periods of time. “In order to support our current crew,” says Ms Taransari, “we have extended their communication facilities to allow them to stay in touch with friends and family.”
Some 150,000 to 200,000 seafarers have been trapped onboard ships and vessels around the world since the travel restrictions and lockdowns were have put in place to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Ship manager V.Group reported it had repatriated 7,315 seafarers from across all marine sectors in the three months since 17 March, the start of the travel bans. Of those repatriated, about 1,400 were from the offshore sector.
Ms Taransari also notes that Covid-19 has made vessel maintenance more challenging. Travel restrictions and customs clearances have made it difficult to obtain spare parts purchased from abroad and hindered the ability to fly in specialists. “Quarantine periods severely restrict the movement of vessels between Middle Eastern ports and this is a hindrance, particularly for shorter-term projects,” says Ms Taransari.
Charterers look for deep discounts
While the price of oil has begun to recover since its precipitous fall in Q1 2020, oil and gas companies have cut capex budgets 25% or more. This has led to charterers looking for steep discounts, she says. “However, in this industry, the strongest, and those who are able to provide stellar service, should survive,” Ms Taransari notes. “We will see a separating of the ‘wheat from the chaff’ and a lot of tonnage exiting the market under [these] abnormal circumstances, which will lead to consolidation. Those that survive will have their pick of future business.”
She feels that one of those survivors will be SIS, which is well positioned to weather and thrive during the current storm. “Our solid business relationships, long experience and vast market knowledge have allowed us to operate our vessels at competitive rates. Our integrity, client focus and track record have [resulted in] continuous contracts. We have always focused on good service to differentiate ourselves and are continuing to do so in these uncertain times.”
She also points out that owning a new offshore support vessel does not guarantee success in the current competitive environment. “We understand that simply owning a brand-new high-tech vessel is not enough: you have to know how to manage the vessel and keep the costs to a minimum while preserving the value of the asset in a very competitive and uncertain market. Despite the major challenges affecting the world economy, we are confident that we can capture a larger share of the market and we continually assess the market for good deals and always aim to improve the quality of our vessels and services.”
Digital investments pay off
While the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges and unprecedented ways of doing businesses, Ms Taransari says SIS started investing in digital platforms for its operations, including warehousing and storage, a few years ago. Those investments put SIS in a good position today, she says. “Technology is going to change the way that the industry operates, and we aim to attach the digital experience to the physical in order to prosper.”
Concludes Ms Taransari: “As we continue to grow and build our portfolio, we are looking at different platforms to tailor solutions to fit the exact requirement of our clients. We aim to streamline our operations and reduce cost for our clients. This is the way forward.”
SNAPSHOT CV: Sanaz Taransari