Wednesday 22 November 2017

Argentine's first women submariner feared for: Eliana Maria Krawczyk's missing sub

Argentinean submariner Eliana Maria Krawczyk, from Daily Mirror,, image by Reuters

Current news about Eliana Maria Krawczyk, on the missing Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan, accidentally brings the information that Argentina is now one of the few countries to allow women to serve on a sub.
Ms Krawczyk (35) is part of the 44 missing crew. This master-at arms (ship’s police person) is Argentina’s first female submarine officer. And she has been in navy for 13 years, since 2004.

I’ve been watching the global phenomenon of women such as Eliana gaining access to submarine work. Here are the answers I’ve found to some FAQs about them.


1. How many women in the world are on submarines right now?

Probably less than 200, and certainly less than one per cent of all 'stinky sinkers' (submariners). In the UK there are rumoured to be about 50 women, in the roughly 8,000-strong submarine service.
By contrast, the 3,400 naval women are c10 per cent of the navy's general service.
The UK has 11 submarines, not necessarily all of which are functioning just now. Not all subs have been converted to accommodate women.

2. When was the very first woman on sub?

Visiting is one thing. Serving aboard is another. Probably Clara Barton (1821-1912) (pictured), was the first woman visitor, in 1899. With other VIPs this founder of the American Red Cross went on a three-mile test run in the Holland at Little Peconic Bay, Long Island.

Celebrating the gaining of their dolphins: Stiles, Olsson and Thackray, from Bradford T&A, 26 May 2014

3. Who were the first UK women to qualify to go on UK submarines?

It was officers first. Ratings started two years later.
In 2014 Lieutenants Alexandra Olsson (26); Maxine Stiles 929); and Penny Thackray (39) graduated.
Medic and nuclear physicist Emma Boswell (pictured) became the first known lesbian to serve on a submarine, in September that year.

4. Who was the first woman boss of a submarine?

Solveig Krey, who in 1995 commanded the 24 men aboard Norway’s HNoMS Kobben. (see pic)

5. What’s the timeline for the first women on submarines, world wide?

It’s not a well-reported or clear story. Not all countries announce the breakthrough.
Often the decision to deploy women in such roles, and then their actual start date, are two years apart. Why? Because it takes time to respond to points thrown up by the investigations into whether to proceed at all, then two years to train the personnel, plus some time for construction workers to create segregated space on board.
These dates below are the decision dates, not necessarily the dates women actually went under sea.
1985 Norway,
1988 Denmark
1989. Sweden
1998 Australia
1998 Canada
1999? Spain
2010 US
2011 UK and seemingly Argentina.
2012 Germany

6. How is it being on a sub different for women?

It isn’t, necessarily. Certainly most women try to minimise the difference. As Lieut Cmdr Debbie Pestell (pictured), a Canadian submariner, found, ‘all are mature, experienced sailors who simply wish to be considered one of the crew, and do not want to be singled out because they are women.'

7. Is being on subs harder for women than for men?

Yes, because:
• In a climate that’s still discriminatory they have to prove themselves more in the training and initially in the job, disproving male doubts
• Women often find themselves doing an extra task: emotional labour, such as listening to men’s private fears, being agony aunts
• Socially, on board there’s an additional burden: fight off male shipmates with opportunist sexual fantasies generated by cooped-up boredom
• On land they have to ensure wives get the message ‘We don’t want your husbands. Naval women are not, per se, marriage-wrecking adulterers. So don’t automatically hate us’

8. Why is women's inclusion such an issue?

It’s a bit fuzzy. But partly it’s about the long-standing cultural and moral anxiety that people on ships will have sex. Obviously it's feared that the greater the proximity (submerged together for days or weeks) the higher the odds are that people will turn to each other.
And sexual activity is thought likely to distract personnel from their duties. In addition, community tensions would include resentment and the assumption that officers will give preferential treatment to ‘women who do’. Cohesion and operational effectiveness would therefore be impaired.

9. Are there practical objections?

Moral and practical difficulties sometime overlap. Material obstacles may have been used to block culturally tricky changes. Initially the stated reason for UK resistance was fear that the carbon-monoxide in the recycled air would be bad for a foetus, if women were pregnant. Now women are pregnancy tested being going aboard, and then seven days into their deployment too.
In some countries like the UK it was thought necessary to make special sleeping and bathroom spaces for women, separate from men. Hot-bedding (sharing a bunk with the person who is on duty when you are off duty, to save space in small subs) was seen by authorities as rather too worryingly intimate.
But refitting ships costs serious money. A projected £3 million bill for altering surface ships to accommodate women caused immense tax-payer hostility in the UK.

8. How were obstacles to women's inclusion sorted out?

In several ways. Building new vessels, with space for women helped. So did generally having more space board, as on today’s nuclear-driven submarines. But some countries are OK about hot bunking. For example in Canada it became accepted practice, but you had your own sleeping bag. Canadian subs didn't have segregated showering. And increasingly, anyway, women are regarded as colleagues, not potential lovers. Gender isn’t so obvious and bimary.

9. But people on subs do have sex, don’t they?

Of course, unofficially. And not only heterosexual sex. But it’s not talked about. Some countries say that you have to report it if you have a relationship on board. The UK navy has a no-touching rule on all ships. However in October 2017 there was what seemed to be the first scandal about a relationship on board a UK sub: HMS Vigilant. The crew are said to have revolted over the incident, involving a divorced 41-year old commander and a sub-lieutenant in her twenties.
The problem is partly about the old one on any ship: wrong rank, fraternising with subordinates. In this Vigilant case two male senior officers were said to be having relationships with younger and lower-status women. So the problem is partly relating to the parental navy’s ‘duty of care’ - i.e. avoiding over-influence, bullying and injustice.

Eliana's submarine, last seen on Wednesday. Image: REX/Shutterstock

10. How does any of this apply to this missing Argentinean sub?

The Argentinian forces have, in the past, used the UK and other countries as models. Eliana Maria Krawczyk certainly is an experienced naval person, with thirteen years service under her belt. Having graduated from submarine and diving school at Mar del Plata (the equivalent of HMS Raleigh crossed with HMNB Faslane) in 2012 she would be very knowledgeable about under-sea life. For both these reasons, as well as her authoritative job, she would be a well-respected person.
The naval base, at which relatives are camped out, waiting for news. They include Silvina Krawczyk, Elian's sister, who is a merchant navy machinist.

As the sub was small she may have been hot-bedding. She had, no doubt, coped with similar male hostility (or just unease and resistance to change) to that earlier faced by her female counterparts in other countries.
It's not known whether there is a no-touching rule on Argentinian ships. Certainly there is no suggestion that she was having an on-board relationship.

Eliana Maria Krawczyk said in a Facebook interview that she hoped to command a sub one day.‘If you think about being underwater, navigating, and being the only woman, it is strange, but at the same time it is exciting and very challenging... Any woman that wants to can do it.’

The point of this week's story of the San Juan is not that somehow it's all the more tragic because a woman is on board. It is simply a tragedy for everyone on board. And maybe knowing the master-at-arms' angle is one of the most interesting angles. But not because she's a woman.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Trafficked women die at sea: females over 5 times more at risk than males

(The corpse of a migrating person is retrieved from rescue ship Cantabria, Salerno, on Sunday. Getty image)

Reports are just coming in that 26 corpses of Nigerian and sub-Saharan women were retrieved from the Mediterranean at the weekend.
Presumably economic migrants seeking entry to Europe, the dead were aged only 14 to 18. Mass murder is suspected.
A “seemingly endless line of black plastic body bags” , said Agence France-Presse, was landed by the Spanish ship Cantabria when it arrived in Salerno, southern Italy, after a rescue operation that brought in 400 people.
The deceased young women had been among the 64 people on the boat travelling to southern Italy from Warshefana, near Tripoli, when rough weather caused the boat to capsize.
Some of those still living were found in the sea, clinging to the sides of a partly-sunk rubber dinghy.

Picture: Survivors land in Salerno.(Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Tuesday, the autopsies were due to begin. The young women were going to be examined to see if they were poisoned and/or raped before they died.


When women are trafficked – not for sex, but just because they want to escape their country – they are five or six times more at risk of dying on their escape boats than are men.
In this case, the dead young women were 40 per cent of those aboard (the total female to male ratio is not yet revealed).

The Guardian reports that Marco Rotunno, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said 90% of migrant women arrive with bruises and other signs of violence.
“It’s very rare to find a woman who hasn’t been abused, only in exceptional cases, maybe when they are travelling with their husband. But also women travelling alone with their children have been abused.”

The reasons why women are so additionally mistreated vary a little according to culture and situations. But from my studies of secondary sources explanations would appear to include:
1. women are regarded as lesser and therefore more disposable
2. women usually have less economic power to bribe their way out of trouble
3. women tend to have been socialised to be less assertive about their rights
4. women may also be less physically strong and have had less experience in fighting off male assailants. (Childhood play fights are useful training but are usually only sanctioned between boys, not girls versus boys).
5. mothers are hampered by being with children they are protecting
6. advanced pregnancy – and miscarrying en route – makes women less physically able to withstand attack or hardship, or simple y to fight for a fair share of scarce food and water
7. murder sometimes follows rape, or even after sex as a bribe. It’s a way to ensure silence. Because those with power in the escape progress (such as boat captains) are invariably male, so the rape victims are usually females.

How can this danger at sea, this horrifically gendered aggression, still be allowed to happen?


A report in Monday's Vanguard, the Nigerian newspaper with the motto ‘Towards a better life for the People’, gave the details:
“The bodies of 26 women were unloaded in a procession of black bags on to the dock of Salerno. The deceased women, believed to be Nigerian in origin, were recovered by the Spanish ship Cantabria as part of operation Sophia, an EU anti-trafficking force. Most of the women, aged in large part between 14 and 18, were drowned when the rubber boat carrying 64 sank on Friday while crossing the Mediterranean.
“The other three victims were collected as part of other operations and transferred the Cantabria as it headed to Salerno to turn over the bodies to the Italian authorities. 375 rescued migrants were also brought to Salerno, originating from sub-Saharan Africa, Gambia, Ghana, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, and Senegal: 90 of them women, eight of them pregnant; and 54, children.


“An investigation into the deaths of the women has been launched by Salerno prosecutors who believe there is a possibility that sexual violence played a role in the death of these women. Public prosecutor Luca Masini has arranged the external examination of the bodies with emphasises on toxicology and evidence of rape.
“The bodies were frozen onboard the Cantabria in order to preserve evidence that may have been lost during the journey to the coast. Full autopsies are expected to be completed at the Salerno morgue within the week.
“Police have detained 7 people for questioning including two men of Libyan and Egyptian origin who are believed to be the captains of the vessel.


“Salerno’s prefect Salvatore Malfi has expressed doubts that the women were being trafficked into sex slavery, as he said “the sex trafficking routes are different. Loading women onto a boat is too risky. The traffickers would not do it as they could lose all their ‘goods, ‘as they describe them, in one fell swoop.”
“While women are statistically at more risk during this kind of migration, it is far beyond the 5 to 6 death rate of men to women crossing the Mediterranean. Read more at:


People wanting to cross that telling bridge from Africa to Europe know the shortest distance by sea is across the Straits of Gibraltar from Point Oliveros to Point Cirse: 8.6 miles(14 km). (A road bridge is being planned.)
‘Illegal’ migrants from southern Africa usually travel via Libya, much further east. Italy has 4,000 mile of coastline and the north-east tip of Tunisia to the west of Sicily, Marsala, near Trapani, is only 325 miles ( 284 km) as the crow flies.
But it’s never that simple, because of sea conditions, and lack of easy places for covert embarkation and disembarkation.
‘Bonafide’ people travelling that route may take ferries from Tunis to Palermo, in north west Sicily. The ten-twelve hour voyage on these large and powerful vessels costs 110 euros in the cheapest period (February).
By contrast, travelling illegally in a rubber dinghy with an inboard motor costs whatever the traffickers can get.
Speeds on a dinghy with a 15 horsepower engine vary between 15-20 miles per hour, but being heavily-laden slows them down. With just two or three people aboard such a boat voyage would take at least 16 hours. These people could have been at sea for several days.
Survivors are just starting to give evidence.

Monday 6 November 2017

TV star (and ex-Wren) June Brown meet's Navy new women

Integrating women into the navy and sea service in 1990-93 was controversial. Veteran Wrens, as well as some die-hard chaps, thought it would never work. Some still do.
They regret that femininity 'doesn't seem to matter any more.'
June Brown (Dot Cotton in EastEnders) was one who thought that way, as today's BBC documentary, Women at war: 100 years of service, shows. Wartime Wren June is the star of this first episode, on women and the navy.
June was a cine-op Wren from 1944-46, projecting instructional films on survival at sea to naval men. She was one of perhaps 100,000 lady-like but excited personnel who 'assisted' the war effort by 'freeing a man for the fleet'.
Those wartime women's histories were evidenced by some of the Wren artefacts June was shown at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. They included the naval shoulder bags for which Wrens had lobbied, needing a place for their lipstick and cigarettes. (There were canvas bags issued, or leather if you could afford to pay). The famous black knee-length 'passion-killers' could, June commented, be worn as cycling shorts today. She also referred to the standard-issue brassieres were 'had a deep band, like an old ladies'', which 'we never wore'.

Now, for this programme, June actually drove a naval vessel, as no woman did until the 1990s. Taking the wheel, well, made her realise she would have been capable of doing that then, as she told the cameras.
She met her successors, today's business-like naval women, on ships and during their training in firefighting.
An early WRNS air mechanic, Dorothy Runnicles, and June too, felt that servicewomen such as themselves had been pioneers then. They saw WW2 Wrens as having paved the way for the 1990s trail-blazers, and then for the women today who take diversity and inclusion totally for granted.

June also interviewed Kate Welch, one of the Wrens to join the first ship that included women as proper sailors. HMS Brilliant sailed in 1990, and Kate said, the 20 women on board were very usefully trained in advance in sea operations.
Any grumpy male doubters were glared at - and handled well by the women who, Kate says, 'were there as sailors in our own right, doing our jobs.'
June's many experiences in making this brisk and well-researched 43-minute film resulted in her starting to see naval integration very differently, as something that worked for today's young women.
I would have pushed it, had I been her interviewer. I would have asked 'So, June, do you now think that treating women as members of a special species might have been a mistake? Do you think it might have been limiting to you all, personally, as well as a waste of potentially useful hands in a wartime crisis?'
I get the impression that, reluctantly, she would have said yes.


TV and film can say things more directly, and with more impact, than books. I wish I had the chance to make a documentary instead of writing a printed volume (although finding the many pictures for it was definitely my favorite part).
But as it is, I feel deeply impressed by this BBC version of women's naval history. The programme was made with the real depth of understanding, and done very succintly and tellingly.
It's a far better brief visual story than my book, Women and the Royal Navy, which is out this week ( A book has the advantage of being permanent. And my summary provides a longer fuller view of woman in all naval services, not only Wrens as in this programme.
But I really take my hat off to the programme makers. Do watch. It's available on i-player until 5 December.

Friday 3 November 2017

Yachtswomen's disaster at sea questioned. Why?

Fulava and Appel on USS Ashland, Okinawa, Picture by AP/Koji Ueda

Why are two seawomen’s headline-hitting disaster story being denied and undermined this week?
Anyone interested in gender has to note the deep ideas about women that are being aired.
The US Coastguard, amongst others, is challenging the ‘inconsistencies’ in the account of Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava. The Hawaiian women set off for an 18-day trip to Tahiti.
On their crippled 50-foot sailboat Sea Nymph they were ‘lost’ for three months after a storm this year, and rescued by the US Navy earlier this week.
See the Associated Press story by Caleb Jones in, for example,


Novelist Ursula K Le Guin (pictured), years ago, famously pointed out the way that women fiction writers’ achievements in history were undermined.
Nay-sayers contended that ‘she didn’t write it’. Or if she did write it ‘she didn’t write much or it wasn’t that hard or it somehow really doesn’t count.’

Similarly, the disparaging counterclaims to these women’s own account amount to this:
1. They were going the wrong way, by thousands of miles. (Code for the stupid women just got lost, and brought on themselves?)
2. There was no storm at all. Records don’t show any severe weather. (Code for they’re lying or hysterical?)
3. If they had REALLY been in trouble, they were only minutes away from rescue facilities. They could have just switched on their beacon.(Code for they’re lying/hysterical, or they brought in on themselves?)
4. They couldn’t have been in a six-hour attack by 20-to-30 –foot tiger shark attack because sharks don’t behave that way nor grow beyond 17 feet. (Code for they’re lying for sympathy or just hysterical drama queens?)
5. Their subsequent stories are inconsistent. Had they really been sending distress signals for 98 days, fearing they weren’t going to last another day? Or had they not felt themselves to be in immediate danger?. (Code for they’re lying/ hysterical drama queens?)

And it goes on. Had they filed a float plan or not? Had they been reported missing before they were due to arrive? By a mum or a man? Were some harbours really too tiny for them to anchor in?
So, they weren't really brave. They weren't really in trouble. Their problems never existed.They can't even tell a consistent story.


Whatever the truth, the commentators are contesting the women’s story. Why? Is it about discounting women’s bravery?
Or alternatively, why would the women have fabricated such a story?