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

Past work

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, one of which included a presentation to the students in the SMU’s Law School, that introduced the GEM Project.

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.

Although we are currently in the analysis stage following the China visit, with our key findings yet to emerge; it is interesting to note that there is a new central government drive in China to widen training of women cadets. This may lead to an expansion of training programmes including women cadets.

The single child policy in China in the last three decades has negatively affected the recruitment of seafarers, including women. With the latest introduction of two-child families, this may herald a change for women cadets and seafarers in the future.

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 Southampton 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.

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

Kimberly Karlshoej, head of the ITF Seafarers' Trust 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 that 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.

Current activities

The local teams are continuing with the GEM data collection in the UK, China and Nigeria according to schedule (see the time-line below). Here are the following country updates on our progress:

The UK

Emma Broadhurst and Kate Pike have recently completed the before and after cadet sea-time surveys for the UK. The returning cadet cohorts were re-surveyed in January following their three month sea-time and we are currently analysing this data which is being closely compared to the before sea-time survey which was completed by the same group of cadets. To help increase the value of this data, we also ran a small informal focus group over tea and cakes, with 4 of the female cadets from this group. The additional information will be immensely valuable to the overall findings 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.


In the UK we have now completed 11 stakeholder surveys, with more scheduled over the next month. The responses have been fascinating and are providing a valuable and unique insight into the issues associated with gender arising from a multi-cultural crew environment. Each interview is being transcribed from the recordings made and then analysed alongside the others.

In addition we are currently analysing historical data looking at the recruitment and retention rates during the completion of a cadetship. We hope to gather similar data for both China and Nigeria to allow a country comparison to be formed.


The Chinese data collection began in November 2014 when the team visited Shanghai and carried out many interviews. This part of the data collection is being expertly overseen by Dr Minghua Zhao and Captain Pengfei Zhang and a great deal of effort has been made to organise the interviews and ensure the best quality data it collected. Since the core team has left, his good work continues with the onsite team in China, Lijuan and Jianjun who are completing the cadet surveys and stakeholder interviews. We currently have over 100 before sea-time cadet surveys from the Shanghai Maritime University and a total of 15 completed interviews. More are underway and data analysis has begun.

Our recent data collection trip to China has been featured in a number of publications, which can be viewed in the press release section of our website.  


The local Nigerian team, Amos Kuje and Nancy Oluoha are currently conducting key stakeholder interviews at the Nigerian Maritime University and in other locations around the country. The team has carried out approximately 10 interviews so far, with more scheduled in the coming weeks. Additionally, over 115 cadet before sea-time surveys have been conducted at the Nigerian Maritime University, and the after sea-time surveys for this group will also be conducted shortly. Transcripts of all the interviews are currently being made and the analysis work for this will start shortly.

The local team in Nigeria will be visiting the UK in March and we will be meeting to discuss the combined data collection progress then.

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

Moving forward

We have started conducting interviews with stakeholders within the maritime industry, both in the UK and Nigeria. Over the next few weeks we will continue to conduct these interviews.

We will continue to carry out our data collection in China, over the coming weeks with the help of our local team.  

In addition, we will also continue with our on-going analysis of the data we have collected so far from each of the three countries. This includes the analysation of both the cadet surveys and the stakeholder interviews.

In the New Year, we will be conducting the follow up survey with cadets returning from their initial sea time, both in the UK and Nigeria.

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