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Meet Chennai’s Reshma Nilofer Naha, the World’s 1st Woman River Pilot!

The world’s first woman river pilot will navigate the dangerous waters of the Hooghly.

Piloting a ship from the sea into a port is a tough job. You need to be very sure of what you are doing if you wish to avoid an accident. Ships are not easy to control, and a lot of thought goes into making even the simplest manoeuvre.

Well, this lady will be the first woman river pilot in the world who will be carrying out the difficult task of piloting ships from the sea to the Kolkata Port. Reshma Nilofer Naha will pilot ships through a distance of 223 km, of which 148 km will be up the Hooghly-a treacherous route full of sharp ‘bars and bends’. Chennai-born Reshma is training hard for her task at the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT).

Reshma Nilofer Naha, will be the world's first woman river pilot. Image Courtesy: Twitter.
Reshma Nilofer Naha, will be the world’s first woman river pilot. Image Courtesy: Twitter.

Reshma is a BSc (Nautical Science) graduate and was recruited by the (KoPT) in 2011. She served as a cadet at sea for a year and obtained the 2nd and 1st mates competency certificates from the Directorate General of Shipping after joining the KoPT. She cleared the Grade III Part-1 exam from KoPT and will qualify as a Grade III pilot within the next six months, according to JJ Biswas, Director, Marine Department, KoPT.

Reshma will initially handle smaller vessels, and upon gaining experience, will graduate to Grade II and Grade I, where she will pilot large ships like Panamax vessels–known to be nearly 300 metres long, with capacities of more than 70,000 tonnes.

Ships coming to the Kolkata or Haldia port have to make contact with the pilot station on Sagar Island on approaching the Sandheads. From there, to the pilot boarding point at Sagar, Vessel Traffic Management Systems provide remote pilotage. Post that, a pilot vessel meets the ship at Middleton Point where the pilot takes charge of the ship until it reaches Kolkata. Upon reaching Kolkata, the ship is handed over to the harbour pilot.

The job is tricky, explained a KoPT official to The Times of India, as the river has several sandbars and bends, and draughts that create problems. As a result, there are many issues that leave little scope to manoeuvre. Which is why the pilots need to make the best use of tides and be well aware of the channel that the ship has to move along, to avoid getting stranded. Extensive training and experience are required, emphasises the official, without which he says it is impossible to handle a ship in a river.


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The KoPT chairman, Vinit Kumar, sounds optimistic and claims that 67 river pilots were already in service with Reshma being the newest one, set to join them soon.

Featured image courtesy: Twitter. 

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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