Dubai policewoman who overcame fear of water set to become first female rescue diver

Maj Atiqa Al Dhaheri was the first woman to lead the force's marine rescue department

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A Dubai Police officer has overcome her fear of water to become the first woman to lead the marine rescue department.

Maj Atiqa Al Dhaheri, 51, stepped up to cover for the department's chief, who is away for three months, and is undergoing diving and first aid training in her quest to become the first female rescue diver on the force.

She has achieved all this after overcoming a deep-seated fear of water.

On my first day [of swimming lessons] I refused to get into the pool and I spent the time sitting on the edge with only my feet in the water
Maj Atiqa Al Dhaheri, Dubai Police

Her fear was the result of an incident when she was 11, when she and her cousin ventured too far out to sea.

Not knowing how to swim, they almost drowned and were rescued by their uncle, who pulled them out of the water unconscious.

The experience left her scarred and deeply fearful of water, something that stayed with her until recently.

Chance meeting

Maj Al Dhaheri's career with Dubai Police was due to a chance occurrence.

While taking Arabic language studies at Alwasl University in 1994, she accompanied her aunt to the force's headquarters.

“It wasn’t a childhood dream to work with Dubai Police, nor was it something I even thought of or considered,” she said.

“My aunt wanted me to accompany her in her third attempt to apply for a position with the force.”

The recruitment officer suggested that Maj Al Dhaheri, who was 22 at the time, should also apply, which she did without hesitating.

A week later she was accepted into the force but her aunt was not.

She went on to hold desk jobs in the archives department and the customer happiness centre before finally deciding to join the maritime police station in 2002.

Years later in 2013, she received a best service award from Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, in recognition of her contribution.

Growing confidence

The turning point came in 2022 when Maj Al Dhaheri decided to enrol in a specialised marine rescue training programme, despite her deep fear of water.

“It didn't cross my mind to take part in a marine rescue training programme and when they announced one in 2017, I didn’t take part,” she said.

“I told my superior officers when they asked why I didn’t take part that I didn’t know how to swim and that I was really scared of water.

“But I received encouragement to at least try, so when the programme was announced in 2022, I thought to myself why not.”

Initially, she found herself frozen on the edge of the pool.

“The first thing would, of course, be swimming lessons and, on my first day, I refused to get into the pool and I spent the time sitting on the edge with only my feet in the water,” she said.

With some encouragement from her instructor, she took the first steps towards conquering her fear.

“The trainer held me by the hand and told me she didn’t want me to swim at all and that all she wanted me to do was stand up in the water while holding on to the railing.

“She then convinced me to put my head under water as I held the railing with both hands. She said just make bubbles.

“One day after the other, I thought the water wasn’t that bad and I wasn’t that scared.”

Her confidence grew and a year later, she is now an extremely competent swimmer.

After completing her training on how to operate a rescue boat, Maj Al Dhaheri set her sights on deep sea diving and is currently training to be Dubai Police's first female rescue diver.

The dives can last hours and also have to be conducted in the dark.

Maj Al Dhaheri believes everything in her life has unfolded according to plan.

“I am grateful for the outcomes this plan has led to in both my professional and personal life, and I remain optimistic that it will guide me towards greater successes,” she said.

“But I hope to see the Ports Police Station establish a specialised women's department in the maritime sector, a plan for which is being considered.

“I also hope that a department in the police headquarters or a police station that is fully led by women will be established and that I take on the role of its director.”

Updated: June 07, 2023, 10:44 AM