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.

No comments: