Camilla Wadstrup Westergaard with ice on the ocean behind her and a ray of sunlight across her face. Logo of the International Day of Women in Maritime 2024.

How safety and diversity are linked

Published: 17 May 2024

In honour of International Day of Women in Maritime 2024, BIMCO spoke to Camilla Wadstrup Westergaard of Maersk. She is a vessel assurance surveyor and works in Algeciras, Spain.

What inspired you to become a seafarer, and where does your passion for seafarer safety come from?

I am one of those kids who grew up with the maritime world very close to me. My father and grandfather were both seafarers and many of my parents friends were in the Royal Danish Navy. I lived on a naval base in Greenland as a child, where I sailed with the navy vessels several times. And at a very young age I knew that I wanted to be a captain like my father. 

Of course, I had lots of dreams throughout my youth, and I changed my mind many times during high school. But at some point, I just knew that maritime was my way. In my high school yearbook, my classmates even wrote that they saw me being onboard a ship in the future. And here we are. And not once have I regretted choosing this path. I am exactly where I was meant to be.

But my path to here was not a straight line so to say. I did dream of joining the Navy like my father. And I don’t talk much about this, but I failed the physical entry test back in 2012 and was absolutely devastated. I had been training for that for a year, and failing the test felt like such a failure. I had been so sure that becoming a naval officer was the path for me. But I was told to get up again and look for other opportunities in maritime, because maybe navy was not the path for me. So one year later I started as a deck cadet with Maersk, and what a journey it has been ever since!

So, where does my passion for maritime and seafaring come from? Partly because it runs in my blood. Partly because my mum taught me to care about the people around me and be curious about the world. And partly because I feel at home amongst seafarers at sea. It is where I grew up and where I always felt safe. And taking up this new position on shore has confirmed to me that I am not finished working at sea, and that I will one day return.


 Camilla Vestergaard at the wheel of a yacht



How does diversity impact safety on board?

To understand how these two terms are linked, we must talk about the term safety and how we look at this today. In the maritime industry, the term safety has undergone a bit of transformation, and talking about safety today we are talking about two aspects which are interlinked and impact each other.

One aspect of safety, and the more traditional one of them, is the physical safety – do the crew have access to proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)? Is the equipment onboard in good condition? Is the work environment physically safe? And so on.

The other aspect is psychological safety – do the crew feel they can be themselves or do they feel they need to fit into the group? Do they feel they can speak up, ask for help or share their ideas? Do they feel they can admit mistakes? Do they feel like a valued part of the team?

The reason I mention this is that the psychological aspect is linked directly with diversity: when you have a mixed and balanced work team, the safety culture improves. It is more acceptable to look out for each other and speak up. There is less competition among the crew, or at least a different type of competition. Different perspectives and experiences enable the group to quickly adapt to new situations, identify emerging risks and implement timely safety measures. The crew comes together as one team.

People from different cultural backgrounds may have different attitudes towards safety, risk perception and communication styles. Understanding and respecting these differences can help in developing safety protocols that are inclusive and effective for everyone. And all of these things together create a safer and more efficient workplace.


 Group of people gathered in front of the bow of a ship in dry dock



Tell us about the project you’re working on for Maersk in Spain and about its objectives.

Last year we expanded our Assurance Team, who originally consisted of a number of travelling superintendents conducting the internal audits, inspections & investigation onboard our vessels. We now have three additional surveyors located in our main hub ports around the world focusing on the safety and reliability of our vessels. Its a proactive step aiming to minimise risks and adding an additional layer of safety for our fleet operations. It gives us a clearer picture of our fleet, where we need to improve or where we do well, and what we can learn from.

By having surveyors in the three biggest hub ports, we have easy access to our vessels and cover a big part of our fleet. It gives us the opportunity for timely follow up, better dialogue with the vessels because we can meet them face to face, and it can be part of bridge between sea and shore.

What’s your formula for getting more women to become seafarers?

This is something I have been asked about before, and I have therefore given it a lot of thought. In my opinion there are four main points that our industry should focus on.

We have to create a work environment where everyone wants to work, where everyone has the same opportunities and rights, and where career paths are more visible than they have been up until now. To do so, our industry needs to understand and meet the demands from younger generations (women as well as men). The demands and the way of life have changed drastically over the past few years: even since I started as a cadet in 2013, life at sea has changed. The maritime industry is very traditional and somehow stuck in old habits, and it is time to take action and stop talking about the changes we need to make and which traditions we need to change. We simply have to just do it!

Secondly, our industry and life at sea are to this day still surrounded by mystery. Most people simply don’t know or understand what it means to be a seafarer in 2024. Try to ask one of your colleagues, friends or kids, how a sailor looks like in their mind. What do they imagine when they hear that word? Despite the world having evolved, I bet that many people will still think of Captain Haddock or a similar fictional character; the old man with the weathered face, big beard and tough look. And this picture, the stereotypical picture of a seaman, this is what we need to change. We need to re-write the narrative around seafarers and how a seafarer looks, because today everybody can go to sea.

And yes, many seafarers are already sharing their lives at sea on social media, trying to break that mystery. However, we have to go broader and reach an even wider audience. And we need to have the guts to be honest, because a life at sea is something very special and it is not for everyone, which is fine. But we need to shine a light on our industry and showcase what we have to offer!

Thirdly, we have to talk about career paths and possibilities. Today, nobody takes a career and stays in it the rest of their lives. As the World is changing and new generations grow up, the demands to life changes. Young people today are extremely ambitious and set different demands to their career and work life balance. The maritime industry needs to accommodate these. We need to offer more flexibility in career paths and to be very clear about what possibilities young people haveat sea and ashore. We must be better at showing the countless possibilities our industry has to offer – also if you start your career at sea. Because right now, young people do not see clear career paths. They see the career path at sea from junior officer up through the ranks all the way to the top (to become Captain or Chief Engineer), but then what? Or what if they want to go ashore before they reach that stage? Maybe they just want to go ashore for a while and then return to their career at sea?

Lastly, and something I have always said: to attract more people to this industry, we must plant the seed at an early age. When they are at an age when we can more easily amaze them and where we can give them a memory that they will carry with them through their childhood and youth. And once they become older and they are asked to start thinking about their future and what career path they want to choose, maybe they will see the maritime industry at a career conference and some of them will remember.

Find Camilla on LinkedIn


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BIMCO House front door


Communications Team

Copenhagen, Denmark