The South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), has presented the “Imbokodo in Maritime Awards” –  which recognises the efforts of women within the sector and the contribution they make in paving the way for new entrants and the future of the maritime industry – since 2022.  Debbie Owen, won the inaugural Imbokodo ‘’Best Mentor’’ award in 2022 and the “Shero of the Sector’ award in 2023 and is the only person to win two Imbokodo Maritime awards in a row.  Imbokodo is an isiZulu word that means “rock”.


Debbie Owen, who heads Lawhill Maritime Centre in Simon’s Town, has been awarded the Shero of the Sector Award by the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI).

For the past two years, the maritime industry umbrella body has presented the Imbokodo in Maritime Awards, which recognise the efforts of women within the sector and the contribution they make in paving the way for new entrants and the future of the maritime industry.

Ms Owen has been at the helm of the Lawhill Maritime Centre at Simon’s Town School for the past nine years. She received the award at a formal function in Gqeberha on Wednesday August 30.

“I am most grateful to the SAIMI and all those involved in the Imbokodo awards for recognising my contribution to the sector. Being at the helm of an educational programme that has made a significant difference in the lives of young South Africans is hard work but also an incredible honour,” Ms Owen told the Echo.

She also thanked her colleagues, Lawhill sponsors, and mentors.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and they are my heroes and ‘sheroes’, the wind beneath my wings,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of SAIMI, Liesl Futter, the acting executive assistant to the CEO, said the Shero award recognised remarkable women who had been working in the maritime industry for over 15 years and had succeeded in over five projects.

“Ms Owen matched the award’s criteria perfectly and stood out as the top candidate,” Ms Flutter said.

Last year, Ms Owen received the inaugural Imbokodo Best Mentor Award.

“I feel very special to have received two Imbokodo awards in a row. I honestly thought one was sufficient,“ she said.

In the early 1990s, Ms Owen was part of the corporate social responsibility team at Safmarine and worked with educationalists to develop Lawhill’s industry-based maritime education programme for Grades 10 to 12.

The programme, now in its 28th year, aims to address youth poverty and unemployment by providing young South Africans with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed after school.

In 2015, the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) appointed Ms Owen as an IMO maritime ambassador in recognition of her contribution to maritime education.

Her time at the helm of Lawhill, which she joined in 2014, have brought many achievements, including winning the Seatrade Middle East India Africa Education and Training Award, in 2018, for the “best maritime education and training programme in Africa, the Middle East and India”.

“No amount of awards will ever compare to the immense satisfaction of watching shy young South Africans thrive within the programme and leave school, confident and ready to make their mark in the world,” Ms Owen said.