In July 2023, Lise Henriksen embarked on the next leg of her extraordinary seafaring journey as she boarded Bow Sky as Captain. By that, she is writing history in the 109-year-old Norwegian chemical tanker company.
From the time she first boarded an Odfjell ship, Lise Henriksen has had a trailblazing career path at sea. She joined Odfjell as a Deck Cadet at Bow Chain in 2010, one year after completing her studies in nautical engineering at the University of Tromsø. Since then, her career has taken her onboard ten different Odfjell vessels, including the Bow Mekka, Bow Sky, Bow Summer, Bow Hercules, Bow Explorer, and others, as she has risen through the ranks. From Third Officer to Second Officer, and then Chief Officer in 2019, Lise’s dedication to her profession has led her to the prestigious role of Captain. “On behalf of Odfjell, I congratulate Lise on her well-deserved promotion and thank her for paving the way for women in the maritime industry…” says CEO Harald Fotland.
Born With Sea Legs
Her journey began in the most northern part of Norway in the tiny village Nuvsvåg. Here, she grew up as the only girl among four siblings. “I have three brothers, and we all find it a bit funny that I, the only female, was the one who ended up choosing a seafaring profession. But I’ve always been motivated; I was the one who accompanied my father on all his fishing excursions. I’ve always known that I would spend my life at sea.”
Nuvsvåg is a small village in Finnmark, home to about 70 people. It has a long history of fishing and farming, which were once the area’s primary activities. Fishing is a shared passion in Lise’s family, and although Lise’s father is now 70 years old, he still goes fishing whenever he gets the chance. When she’s at home, Lise accompanies him– as she has done since she was a youngster.
Fostering Team Culture
Working on board a deep-sea chemical tanker presents a variety of experiences. Lise appreciates the ever-changing nature of her work, from the occasional calm morning in port, when she can enjoy a cup of coffee in peace before the busy day of port calls and loading/unloading begins, to the pleasant days sailing in good weather. She emphasizes the importance of fostering social connections among the crew members, which promotes unity and a sense of belonging. “Engaging in activities like deck golf and organizing events that cater to the diverse interests of the crew contributes to a happier and more cohesive team. A happy ship is one where people can have fun together.”
It might be difficult to maintain the same level of motivation when working at sea for a long time, as many seafarers discovered during Covid. During rough patches like these, Lise underlines the importance of addressing and accepting that colleagues can have a bad day, seeing each other, keeping each other going, and giving each other space.
Shaping The Future
In a male-dominated industry, Lise Henriksen stands out as a trailblazer. There is still considerable work to be done to achieve true gender equality in the shipping industry. A member survey from the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association from 2020 revealed that only 15% of leaders in the maritime industry are women. Among seafarers the number is even lower: A mere 7%, which is less than one in ten.
Looking abroad, the numbers decrease further: In the international shipping segment, women account for only 3% of the whole workforce at sea. Fortunately, being a woman in the minority has never stopped Lise. Reflecting on her journey, she acknowledges the historic nature of her appointment as the first female captain at Odfjell.
Choosing a career at sea is a unique life that may not be suitable for everyone. For those who are triggered by the opportunity, though, Lise recognizes the importance of role models for future generations of women entering the industry. She believes that increasing awareness about the numerous opportunities available within the shipping industry is crucial for attracting more people, including women, to pursue maritime careers. Putting her words into action, Lise teaches nautical engineering and chemical tanker shipping at her former University during her time off. And she notices that the gender balance is improving among the students.
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