Few know about Sonali Banerjee, India’s first woman maritime engineer.

Born in Allahabad, Sonali had always heard the call of the deep.

Her uncles served in the merchant navy, and it was their tales of the sea that ingrained in her a desire to become a globe-trotter with a ship of her own.

When the time came, Sonali enrolled herself in a four-year BE course at Kolkata’s Taratala-based Marine Engineering Research Institute (MERI).

But she ran into walls of scepticism — from disapproving relatives to fellow students who thought of her as a liability on board, as she was a woman.

“Even my father was apprehensive about my choice of career. After all, I was stepping into what is known as a man’s world,” Sonali later told The Telegraph.

But Sonali was made of stronger stuff and stood her ground to join the course.

Interestingly, such was the uproar caused by Sonali’s admission at MERI in 1995 that the premier institute did not know where to put its only female student. After much debate and deliberation, she was placed in the officers’ quarters.

In 1999, Sonali graduated from MERI as India’s first woman marine engineer, the only girl among 1,500 cadets.

Soon after, she was selected by Mobil Shipping Co for a gruelling six-month pre-sea course. This hands-on training took her to ports in Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Hong Kong, Fiji and Australia.

She recounts how being a woman impacted her journey. “While men can make small mistakes that are ignored, I have to be extra careful not to make one, for it will be noticed and commented upon,” Sonali once told The Times of India.

Having passed this crucial course on 26 August 2001, Sonali made history when she boarded a Mobil Shipping Co vessel and officially became the first Indian woman to take charge of a ship’s machine room.

Sonali’s trailblazing journey opened a new chapter in the history of India’s maritime industry.