Speaking to the Daily News on Thursday, Zungu, 33, said she was excited by her new position and slightly overwhelmed.
“I am overwhelmed because I know how enormous the task at hand is. It is not an easy one, but it is a challenge I am looking forward to,” she said.
After completing her Maritime Studies at the Durban University of Technology, Zungu was selected by TNPA as a development candidate in 2001.
She is now, according to TNPA, part of a growing number of women who have been promoted into senior positions through their hard work and dedication, who are changing the face of the male-dominated maritime industry.
In 2011, a week after obtaining her open licence – which allows one to pilot any type of vessel – Zungu piloted the MSC Chicago, at the time the largest container vessel to visit South Africa’s shores. This was just after the entrance channel had been widened to make way for a new generation of container ships. She has since had seven years’ experience of guiding vessels of any size up to super tankers and mega container vessels into the Port of Durban.
In her new role as Deputy Harbour Master – Nautical, in addition to managing marine pilots, other responsibilities include close liaison with the dredging department, incident management, ensuring vessels carrying dangerous goods comply with control measures, and ensuring the safety of the port. It includes understanding of the international regulations and conventions and once these are adopted by Samsa, the port complies accordingly.
She said the industry needed more women and encouraged others to seriously look at it as a career option.
“The thing with this is that you have to be passionate about maritime. I did this because I wanted to see the world. I have now been to most of Europe and West Africa. And I did it all for free. It is a really exciting job,” she said.
But being a marine pilot came with huge responsibility, Zungu said. “You have to study the sounding charts daily and have an accurate mental picture of the sea-bed. You have to know what’s underneath you including port depths, as the equipment on board the visiting ships doesn’t always work. When you bring in a vessel you take over from the captain and all the decision making is up to you. You are on your own and it can be stressful as you are piloting someone else’s vessel. While the new container ships and auto carriers are extremely responsive and the cruise liners even more so, some vessels (usually bulk carriers and tankers) are underpowered. You have to be prepared for any emergency including engine failure and other factors beyond your control, such as a sudden change in the weather,” she said.
Zungu’s original dream was to be an air pilot, but her parents could not afford the training.
She instead signed up for maritime studies and has never looked back.
During her cadetship, she spent her first eight months on a bulk carrier as the only woman in a crew of 28 Russian men. The only person who could speak a little bit of English was the captain.
“It’s a tough environment for women. On board you have to have the physical and mental strength to perform the role. Only when you’re on land you can put on your skirt and heels and be a lady again,” she said.
While Zungu’s parents died a few years ago, she said she knew they would be proud of her achievements.
“I know they are looking down from heaven, overjoyed,” she said.
Pinky Zungu has again made history with her appointment as Transnet National Ports Authority’s first black female Deputy Harbour Master – Nautical for the Port of Durban. She starts her new job on Monday.