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A Tawau lass in the thick of things offshore
Published on: Sunday, March 08, 2020
By: Sherell Jeffrey
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AT 33, Tawau-born Lea Natasha Ribin has achieved a feat not commonly attempted by many females, especially in an otherwise male-dominated line of work. 

She is an Offshore Installation Manager (OIM) for Malikai, one of Shell’s deepwater platform located 100km off Sabah. 

Being a full-time OIM, and currently the only female holding such post in Shell Malaysia, she always gets that funny look when introduced to newcomers. 

“They wouldn’t say that to my face but indirectly, you know when people have that ‘look’. When I am being introduced, especially with the newcomers, not from my team because they are so used to me, but from the newcomers who will go, ‘Oh, you are the OIM…’ while giving you that funny look.”

“At first I was annoyed, but as time went, I realised that it’s not their fault they think that because we are all used to having that vision of an OIM being an older ‘garang’ (fierce) man. You wouldn’t see a female, traditionally. 

“If I were in their position, I would probably have the same reaction,” she said when met recently for an interview in conjunction with the International Women’s Day Celebration. 

Lea was a Shell scholar who went on to major in Chemical and Process Engineering from the University of Sheffield in the UK. 

She started her career with Shell 10 years ago through the Shell Graduate Programme, as a graduate Operations Engineer. 

On what motivated her into the oil and gas industry, especially coming from a family of civil servants, she said, “I think its circumstances. After my SPM, I did my matriculation in Labuan and there was this offer for a Shell scholarship. I applied because I needed someone to pay for my education.” 

“I have always enjoyed science and mathematics because it always made sense, there’s always logic involved, and you can always make sense of it. 

“Engineering made sense to me even though I didn’t really know a lot about it but I know I enjoyed the science and maths subject, and chemical and process fits in well as to why I enjoyed operations engineering, which is my current role and discipline. 

“It’s probably because we are known to be the jack of all trades, our role requires us to have in-depth knowledge about various disciplines, mechanical, electrical, process, a little bit about finance, commercial… so that’s what I enjoyed about it,” she said. 

Her steadfast and unwavering attitude has resulted in her taking on different roles in Sarawak Shell and she was even part of the Regional Production Team in Singapore. 

Having taken on these roles, she was eventually tasked to manage Operations Readiness for Gumusut- Kakap, before supporting the commissioning and start up for both Gumusut-Kakap and Malikai.

Her day offshore starts as early as 5am, working 12 to 14-hour days for two weeks straight and having another two weeks off, before coming back for another two weeks. 

“I get two weeks on and two weeks off, which is actually really great. I get to stay at home and enjoy time with my family during those two weeks off,” she said.

On how she copes being away from home, she said, “It’s great now we have Wi-Fi offshore, so I can video call with my son and husband and family.  

“When I am onshore on my two weeks off, I get to spend quality time with my family,” said the proud mother to a two-year-old boy. 

Today, she leads a team of 88 personnel, supervising operations and ensuring safe production.

“My job involves a lot of engagements with the people on board, ensuring the safety and welfare of everybody on the platform,” she said.

Aside from that, it also involves a lot of discussions with the onshore team which are largely based in Kota Kinabalu. She also deals with different departments like finance, or projects and technology oil wells. 

“We ensure the reliable production of the oil and gas gets onshore for further processing,” she added. 

Her colourful yet exponential career growth can be largely be attributed to her intelligence, courage, perseverance and the ability to balance between being a commanding and caring leader. 

However, it is the constant support from her family, superiors, colleagues and her team that has made her journey a possibility – a true testament that when a woman is empowered by those around her, there is nothing that she cannot achieve. 

“I think the only important decisions to be made when a female wants to join the oil and gas industry or go offshore is her own point of view and also her family’s’. Whatever decision you make it’s between you and your family.

“I think family plays a very important role. I could not have done this without support from my family. They have to make their own sacrifices for me to be able to do this. 

“My parents, in-laws, husband… they all have to make their own sacrifices, so I could not have done it without them and they are all based here... lucky for me, so that was really helpful.

“To have a good support system, I think, is really crucial to enable anybody to do this. I think if you ask the other females they have their own stories sacrifices,” she said. 

In her parting words to women, she said, “This might be a bit cliché but my advice is to not give up, because people will give comments behind your back, but it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t affect you, I think that’s my personal view.”

This year, Shell Malaysia celebrates its 110 years in Upstream anniversary.


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