Tamoy Cohen-Morrison – Chief engineer
Tamoy Cohen-Morrison (Photos: Naphtali Junior)

SHE was not drawn to shipping or engineering immediately — far from it. When young Tamoy Cohen was in high school she was always fascinated with travelling so she wanted to become a flight attendant. When her grandmother got sick and was in the hospital she wanted to become a doctor. But one career day her fate was sealed after a career talk from a representative from Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI), now Caribbean Maritime University (CMU).

Today, and now Tamoy Cohen-Morrison, this Bodles, St Catherine native is a chief engineer, and she shared her voyage with All Woman.

The year was 2004 and the place was the auditorium at Garvey Maceo High. A confessed tomboy, young Tamoy, in her final year of high school, wanted something different from the usual lawyer/doctor spiel usually bandied about in high school career discussions, and the CMI rep had her attention.

"I knew nothing about shipping. It was my very first time hearing about ships and the world of shipping. I was super excited because this was something nobody else was doing," she recalled. "I went straight home and relayed the information to my mother, but she completely shut it down with the reality that we were poor and there was no money to pay the tuition. Instead, I had to think of other options after high school even though I graduated with my CXCs."

Tamoy Cohen-Morrison (Photos: Naphtali Junior)

Mom had three girls, and sending them to school was a challenge enough, without considering college.

"At that time you could leave high school with your subjects and then find work somewhere, so she was like no, you need to find some sort of employment," she said.

But growing up poor, Cohen-Morrison said she wanted to break that chain of poverty, where a youngster would finish high school, then the expectation would be to find a job and then get pregnant.

"I didn't want that for myself. Once you're in school all the time, no matter what you're doing, you will not fall into that category," she said.

In 2005, she enrolled at Stony Hill HEART Academy, "because that was free, and the family was still struggling financially". But she was doing accounting, just as a space filler, and as fate would have it, another career day rolled around, and this time the shipping talk came from the communications manager from the Shipping Association of Jamaica.

"After the talk I went up to him and explained that I was interested in the maritime school but my parents could not afford it. He explained that there was a programme at the time called the Multi- Purpose Ratings (MPR) that I could apply for, which would have given me the qualifications to work at the wharf as a stevedore. But that was another HEART programme, and seeing that I had just finished one, I would have to pay for the one at CMI, which was not expensive," she said.

Tamoy Cohen-Morrison (Photos: Naphtali Junior)

"I explained the MPR course to my mother, and she agreed to pay for it because she saw that I was not giving up. Upon completion I did so well that the opportunity presented itself to move on further with my studies in the institution."

But again finances were an issue, but young Cohen was not deterred.

"That was when I went and spoke to Accounting and they told me I could apply for the scholar programme the following year, which I did and started the Officer in Charge of Engineering Watch Programme. I received grants from CMI towards my tuition and that's how I completed my first year of schooling."

Her first internship (Cadet) began in the summer of 2007 where she went to Jamaica Energy Partners (JEP).

"That experience taught me to be both tough on the exterior and on the interior as well; the work environment was a university within itself, from learning the operation and maintenance of diesel engines to solving life's problems," she shared. "Being the only female at the time, I had to work three times as hard as the other cadets to prove myself, so when it was time for me to venture out at sea in 2008 for the other half of my engineering training as engine cadet on-board CFS Palamedes, I was well equipped with the knowledge that I needed," she said. "Sometimes the hours were long but the joy of waking up in a different country every two days or so made it worthwhile."

Upon returning from sea in 2009, Cohen-Morrison went straight into the classroom.

"Because now I thought I had all the resources I needed, because I had been saving my cadet stipends, which ran out so quickly, but as usual I was determined not to give up. I ended up doing the Jamaica Values and Attitudes programme (which provides assistance to tertiary students) for 30 per cent tuition and writing to JEP and Windalco which helped me with my final year tuition, boarding and books, so I didn't have to worry when I was spending all those long sleepless nights studying."

She said as soon as her final year was over, her Engineer Knowledge 2 teacher, Alexander Heath, who saw the potential that she had, took her under his wings and started training her on the harbour tugs as an engineering cadet. She stayed there and practised for her oral exams at the Maritime Authority of Jamaica, and received her license as a marine engineering officer STCW Regulation111/1 — equivalent to a land-based associate degree, because at the time CMI didn't have a degree programme in marine engineering.

"After my cadetship on the tugs I went back to JEP, this time in the capacity of mechanical technician where I stayed for six and a half years," she told All Woman. "I had gained so much experience, I could overhaul a Wartsilla 12V or 18V46 medium speed diesel engine with my eyes closed."

But much time had passed and Cohen-Morrison could hear the sea calling out to her, "so I accepted the call".

In 2018 she went back to sea as chief engineer on a 22m Damen built Stan patrol 2205 vessel, M/V HELICONIA STAR in Montserrat.

"This was my first experience being chief engineer and on a new-built project. This was a British sponsored vessel given to the government of Montserrat. I was the only female engineer on the project. They sent us to the Netherlands for training with the ship-builder Damen, and after completion the vessel was delivered on a ship to Antigua and we took it off, got it ready, tested the system's bunker fuel and sailed to Montserrat."

Cohen-Morrison said she had to re-study maritime legislation again and get caught up with the world of sailing — new regulations that had come from the International Maritime Organization — and move away from the land-based mentality.

"This was challenging but I got it done, which in turn set me up for the biggest transformation of my life when I left that job after my one-year contract ended and transitioned into yachting," she said.

"My first job was chief engineer on a 34m RIVA built yacht, M/Y ELYSIUM. This was my first time in Europe and now second time on a new-built project. This was a complete transformation from what I had known. I had to get myself familiar with yachting compliance regulations because I was only in the world of commercial shipping. I managed to get the boat ready from an engineering standpoint for its maiden voyage, then it was handed over to the owner and captain. We ran charters in the Mediterranean for six months. I was completely in charge of all engine room machinery, main engines and auxiliary systems — all the technical engineering aspect of the yacht was my responsibility."

From then all the vessels Cohen-Morrison has worked on she has served as chief engineer, which is a managerial position, even though her licence is a III/1 third engineer licence, but because of the length of the vessels and the fact that they were private, she could work as chief engineer.

Being a woman in a male dominated field, most of Cohen-Morrison's days are tough because she has to constantly be proving herself, especially working as a chief engineer, she says.

"My aim is to achieve the highest level in marine engineering and continue my studies at CMU and sit that final oral exam for chief engineer unlimited STCW regulation II/1, which would be the equivalent to a land-based plant manager," she said.

Asked what propels her to show up and get the job done day after day, Cohen-Morrison said her drive to succeed is that she is coming from too far to give up now.

"I want to be a positive role model for Jamaican girls to show them that not because you are from a poor background it doesn't mean you can't achieve what you set your mind to," she said.

Supported by husband Hugh, she said when she was transitioning from land to sea, he knew it was her passion and was very supportive in the decisions she made.

For the near future she plans to get back on a yacht and then go for her chief engineers license which will enable her to sit in any managerial position land-based, and qualifies her to work as chief engineer on larger vessels like container ships.

"I get the job done everyday because a lot of people thought I would have given up already because being a marine engineer is not an easy job, but this is what I love and I will always fight to strive for the top," she said.

PETULIA CLARKELAWRENCE

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