Emirati mother swaps office for job on the ocean

Sahar Rasti, a navigator coordinator, watches as the crew of Al Shahamah pull in a buoy for cleaning at Mina Zayed. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // After years spent behind a desk, Sahar Rasti is happy to be out in the open air, doing a job normally reserved for the men.

The former advertising and events management staffer swapped her office job to become the first women to work in marine operations at Abu Dhabi Ports.

Despite warnings about the hard work, long hours and tough conditions involved, the 33-year-old Emirati mother of three wanted to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty.

Mrs Rasti and a team of technicians spend the early hours of each day at sea aboard the maintenance ship Al Shahmah to check on more than 1,000 buoys deployed by port authorities.

“Sometimes we travel as far as three hours if the buoy is in Al Gharbia,” she said.

As her vessel approached a red exit buoy bobbing in the water, the crew prepares to lift it on to the ship’s deck.

After cleaning the tower, Mrs Rasti quickly grabbed a shovel and, along with her colleagues, knocked off thick layers of barnacles and other sea creatures, but was careful to return the ­marine life to the sea once her work was done.

“Don’t forget the starfish,” she joked. “When we are done we take it back to the sea because it serves as food for the fish.”

Cleaning even a small buoy can take up to 40 minutes of hard physical work. “You can see how it is difficult,” said Mrs Rasti. “And this is a small buoy, imagine if it is a very big one.”

After inspecting the chain, anchor and lanterns, Mrs Rasti and the crew gave the buoy the all clear. It was only deployed a year ago and in good condition.

“If we had to exchange parts, the process will take much longer,” said Eliser Fernandes, maintenance supervisor.

As the men started to repaint the buoy’s tower, Mrs Rasti waited to take her turn.

“This is not part of my job, but I like to participate in everything,” she said before climbing the tower, red paint and brush in hand.

“I did not even plan to do this,” she said of her unusual career choice. “It was a little bit of a challenge. People said ‘no you cannot do this’, so I said ‘I will show you I can’.”

Mrs Rasti joined Abu Dhabi Ports a year ago as an administrative assistant but enrolled in a development programme for Emiratis to expose them to different jobs around the port.

“I was interested in marine operations and wanted to see what they were doing and asked to join. AD Ports management, and the CEO said if I wanted to do it they would support me.

“It was very hard at first,” she said. “When the sea is rough during winter, the motion sickness is too much and it gets scary.”

Captain Abdulaziz Al Hammadi, Abu Dhabi Ports’ Marine Navigation and Technical Services manager, said when Mrs Rasti first asked about the position he warned her that it was not an easy job.

“I told her I will support you if you can do it.”

The work environment is very difficult, he said. “With 1,238 bouy stations within our region I told her you did only one, imagine doing the rest in windy and dusty conditions.”

But Mrs Rasti stuck it out to become the only woman out of 178 marine operations staff.

Mr Al Hammadi said Mrs Rasti has so far faced the problems the job has thrown at her as well as any of her male colleagues.

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