Over the equator and back: A profile of Engineer Officer Svetlana Timm-Vengerov

When she was 17 years old, Svetlana Timm-Vengerov went to sea as part of the holiday seafaring programme run by the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR) – it was the start of her chosen career.

It’s her godfather’s fault. You see, when she was supposed to get a taste of working life during high school, the ship’s engineer persuaded Svetlana Timm-Vengerov to go on a voyage with the VDR’s holiday seafaring programme. “At first I thought: ‘What a crazy idea! Why should I try it?’,” she says. “But then I sailed with them out of curiosity.” After six weeks on board, it was clear that the engines below deck were her thing. “Even though I hadn’t had anything to do with ships until then, I had always found mechanics interesting,” she says.

After earning her university-entrance qualification in 2014, she enrolled in a marine engineering programme at a university in the port city of Warnemünde in north-eastern Germany. There, Svetlana learned everything that an engineer officer has to know. Now 26, she is sitting in the recreation room of the “Santos Express”, which is berthed at Hamburg’s Container Terminal Burchardkai (CTB). The ship is ready for departure, and she is also in a great mood. This will be her third voyage with Hapag-Lloyd as a qualified engineer – and her first across the equator. The 10,500 TEU vessel sails in the SWX service from Hamburg and European ports to the Caribbean, then through the Panama Canal to the west coast of South America and on to Valparaíso.

She is also looking forward to working below deck: “In the coming months, I will be taking care of the separators, the air compressors, the wastewater treatment plant, and the five auxiliary diesel engines,” Svetlana says. “If there’s something I still can’t do, I’ll eventually get the hang of it.” On board this time will be a chief engineer from Poland and a second engineer from Romania. What Svetlana also loves about seafaring is the different cultural mindsets she works with.

In fact, different nationalities are literally in Svetlana’s blood, as she has a German mother and a Russian father. He moved to Germany many years ago for love. “Since he didn’t speak German at the time, it was hard for him to find a job at first – but he did have us!” she says with a smile. By “us”, she means herself, her twin sister Irina, and Jelena, who is five years younger and looked after their father while their mother was at work. “That definitely influenced us,” she adds. “We’ve always been very independent, and it was normal for us for mom to go to work and for dad to be home.” Svetlana regrets, however, that she hardly speaks any Russian. “At the time, our kindergarten teacher told my parents that it wasn’t good to raise children bilingually,” she says.

Her sisters didn’t become seafarers, but they did get out into the wider world: Irina was an exchange student to the Russian city of Samara, and Jelena spent a year in Uganda as a volunteer. Perhaps what unites the young women is not seafaring but a desire to travel. In any case, Svetlana’s plan for the future will be both professional and geographic: “I want to make it as far as possible!”

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