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The Gender, Empowerment and Multicultural Crews (GEM) project was established to examine seafarers' welfare, focussing on gender issues arising from multi-cultural crews and isolation.

The GEM team would like to thank all those who participated in the research and contributed their valuable time in helping us to gain a unique insight into seafaring gender issues in the UK, China and Nigeria. This work would not have been possible without you.

Past work


Kate Pike and Emma Broadhurst completed the cadet surveys for the UK. In January 2016, cadets returning from their first sea phase were re-surveyed following three months at sea. The data from these surveys was closely compared with the survey results from the same cadets before they had been to sea. To help increase the value of this data, we also ran a small, informal focus group, with four of the female cadets from this group. The informal discussion about their first experiences at sea and the issues they had come across provided immensely valuable information and we would like to thank all those who took part in this and the surveys. In total, 23 cadets completed the before and after sea time survey and an additional 19 cadets completed just the after survey.

The responses received from the stakeholder interviews have also been fascinating and provided a valuable and unique insight into the issues associated with gender arising from a multi-cultural crew environment. As with China and Nigeria, the UK team gathered interview data from the various perspectives of policy, training, recruitment, management and seafaring. Each interview was transcribed verbatim from the recordings and thematically analysed to produce a rich data set.


The Chinese data collection began in November 2015 when the team visited Shanghai and carried out many interviews. This part of the data collection was overseen by Dr Minghua Zhao and Captain Pengfei Zhang, and a great deal of effort was made to organise the interviews and ensure the best quality data was collected. When the core team left China, the good work continued with the on-site team in Shanghai, Lijuan and Jianjun, who completed both the cadet surveys and stakeholder interviews. Over 100 before sea time cadet surveys were carried out at Shanghai Maritime University. Data analysis was carried out.

Our data collection visit to China was featured in a number of publications, which can be viewed in the press release section of our website. 


The local Nigerian team consisted of Amos Kuje and Nancy Oluoha from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.  Nancy and Amos conducted key stakeholder interviews at the Nigerian Maritime University and in other locations around the country. Over 115 cadet before sea time surveys were conducted at the Nigerian Maritime University. Seventeen interviews were also conducted, providing rich data for the report.

The Gender Empowerment and Multicultural Crews Conference

The GEM Conference was held on 16 June 2016 at the ITF Seafarers' Trust offices in London. The conference brought together many different sectors of the shipping industry to hear about the GEM Project research findings and to participate and discuss the results in themed panel discussions throughout the day. The event provided a forum for stimulating debate and viewpoints to be aired, as well as the opportunity to bring people together for a thought-provoking exchange of ideas on how to attract more women into the industry, and retain those that already work there, within a safe and comfortable working environment.

China visit

The project team were in Shanghai for a week, where we were undertaking data collection from various stakeholders within the Chinese maritime sector, with the help of our local team. The research was primarily based at the Merchant Marine College at Shanghai Maritime University (SMU), where the team met with a number of cadets and staff, many of whom are ex-seafarers themselves.

As part of our visit to the Merchant Marine College, we were invited to give a series of presentations to the cadets, including a presentation introducing the GEM Project to the students in the SMU’s Law School.

We also visited Pudong, in the ‘new part’ of Shanghai, where we met and spoke to various companies, government agencies and other relevant maritime stakeholders. We were impressed by the number of interested parties we met in China, and their warm support which helped to make the visit extremely productive and enjoyable.

The visit was led by Dr Minghua Zhao and Captain Pengfei Zhang – GEM Project team leads in China. Many thanks to our local team in Shanghai:

  • Local GEM Project team in China – Lijuan Zhao PhD candidate, East China University of Political Science and Law and Jianjun Wu, Shanghai Maritime University.
  • Professor Chao, Vice Dean, School of Law Shanghai Maritime University.

gem-merchant-maritimeMain entrance to the Merchant Marine College, Shanghai Maritime University.

The welcome screen at Shanghai Maritime University

Presentation by the Dean of the Merchant Marine College at Shanghai Maritime University.

The GEM Project team meeting two ex-female seafarers.

Yangshan Port on Xioyang Island.

Shanghai waterfront.

Project launch

gem-speakersThe GEM project was officially launched at the International Maritime Organisation on Tuesday 22 September 2015, alongside Solent University’s China Centre (Maritime).

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Graham Baldwin, welcomed representatives from the maritime industry, including representatives from ISWAN, Nautilus, and the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, and others.

Professor Mike Barnett chaired the event and other speakers for the evening included Kimberly Karlshoej, head of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, GEM project manager, Dr Kate Pike, and Professor Minghua Zhao.

Kimberly Karlshoej spoke about the timely need for the research being undertaken by the GEM project:

“We are missing out on a lot of skilled, resilient and competent women that would add immense value to our industry. The term seafarer is gender blind and so are the seas, this is why this research is so important.”

“This research will help us to understand the context from a sea farer’s, men or women’s, point of view and will help identify the barriers and the frustrations that they face. I think it is safe to say that in the future it will be essential to strive towards a maritime industry that is inclusive and that views its lifeblood, its sea farers, as more than a sum of its parts.”

Speaking about the GEM research, project manager and senior research fellow Kate Pike said the project:

“aims to improve the welfare and working conditions on-board for all crew by empowering and supporting women who may be experiencing discrimination and harassment. It will identify gaps in current knowledge – with regard to training and retention – and raise awareness of the wider issues surrounding multicultural crews so that women can play a fuller role on board ships and beyond.”

To read more about the launch, please click here.

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