Friday 29 July 2011

Sexual services at sea: highly productive

My Google Alert for 'women, sea' has just come up with this interesting insight into sex and gender on Scandinavian ships in the 1950s.It relates to the provision of sexual services, and to accepted incest.
In an obituary of nurse Jennifer Worth (pictured) The Telegraph mentions that Worth worked with another midwife, 'Chummy' who was sent 'aboard a Swedish cargo ship one stormy night to deliver a baby for the captain’s daughter, a 35-stone blonde called Kirsty, who thought she had a stomach upset.
'Kirsty, Chummy was shocked to learn, was “the ship’s woman”, cheerily servicing the 20 crew members, including her father, at least 10 times a day. “I keep the men happy and happy men work hard,” said Kirsty matter-of-factly.'
The reference to this very pragmatic 'prostitution' appears in Worth's trilogy: Call the Midwife (2002), Shadows of the Workhouse (2005) and Farewell to the East End (2009).
The wider question, of course, is "Is this an anomalous situation in Scandinavian merchant shipping? Or is it the tip of a huge iceberg?"
The highly opportunistic practice has implications not only in relation to sexually transmitted diseases. (There would have been a loop of infection and re-infection, from shore encounters with sex industry workers).
It also suggests a very unusual power structure aboard, both democratic (intimate access to the master's daughter) and collective collusion in illegal incest.
And it underlines the way the ship at sea is an exceptional space where the moral values of land life do not necessarily operate.

Women ships' pilots

Women marine pilots are still rare, not because of lack of talent but because of traditional attitudes to women in power at sea. But in post-apartheid South Africa the first three female marine pilots are now sailing: Precious Dube (left), Bongiwe Mbambo and Pinky Zungu (right).

The information is revealed at The women appear to be well-established so I'm not clear why it's news.Perhaps they have reached a new career stage.

Anyway, the three 'were among the earliest development candidates introduced by Transnet National Ports Authority in the late 1990’s. [It was part of a policy move] to encourage more black participation in the company’s operations.' It would be useful to know what enabled these three to apply and what hindered those who didn't apply.

They 'followed similar career paths, first receiving bursaries from Transnet to pursue a one-year maritime studies programme. Following the at-sea stages they took oral examinations with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). [Afterwards they] obtained Class 3 tickets to be junior deck officers responsible for auto piloting vessels and managing safety equipment. They then trained and worked as tug masters at Transnet, manoeuvring ships in and out of the port with the aid of small tugboats.

'After a one-year pilot training programme they qualified as junior pilots before progressing through the various licence grades. [They started] with smaller ships of around 16,000 gross tonnes progressing up to 35,000 tonnes in stages.'

Eventually they finished] with an open licence. This 'gave them authority to guide anything from the very smallest vessels to the biggest supertankers and container ships into port.'
Bongiwe Mbambo reported that when she drew alongside her first ship '"The captain actually took photographs and recorded a video while I was performing my job alongside him. It was very funny."'

'Her newly-qualified colleagues had similar experiences, and no few difficulties whilst undergoing the experiential training stages as cadets out at sea with shipping lines such as Safmarine and Unicorn, sailing between South Africa, Europe and the Far East.

'Pinky Zungu remembers:“Being at sea was difficult at first. I was the only cadet and the only female on a Russian cruise ship where only the captain spoke English well.”