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Inspiring women in maritime

Thursday 9 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National

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Inspiring women in maritime
The Bank of the Cook Islands (BCI) staff and board members hosted US Coast Guard Commander Cynthia Travers and the female crew of the USCGC William Hart (WPC 1134). 23020803

The Bank of the Cook Islands yesterday hosted female crew members of the visiting US Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) William Hart. The ship’s commander Cynthia S. Travers spoke at the event, sharing her experiences to inspire local women in maritime.

The morning tea event held at The Islander Hotel embraced this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #EmbraceEquity – Equality versus Equity.

Jennifer (Jenny) Henry, standing in for BCI chief executive officer Vaine Arioka who is currently overseas, noted the event, “was an opportunity for celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility”.

Commander Travers, who assumed the role in June 2021, was the keynote speaker.

Based in Hawaii, the United States Coast Guard ship left its home base in mid-January, on its primary mission to help with fisheries enforcement in Pacific waters.

Thirty-eight-year-old Travers was “very honoured and humbled” to attend the special function and to see women in the maritime community.

“When I think of equity, opportunity is something that really comes to my mind,” said Travers.

“It makes me think a lot about opportunity and the progress we are able to make so that women everywhere have the opportunities to pursue careers and lives, studies and all of the things that really make a life complete.”

US Coast Guard William Hart executive officer Lieutenant Junior Grade MegMarie Stanchi (left) and commanding officer, Commander Cynthia Travers attend the commemoration of Te Tiriti o Waitangi on Monday. 23020806
US Coast Guard William Hart executive officer Lieutenant Junior Grade MegMarie Stanchi (left) and commanding officer, Commander Cynthia Travers attend the commemoration of Te Tiriti o Waitangi on Monday. 23020806

The ship arrived at Avatiu Harbour last week with a crew of around 24. Eight are women, “which is a little bit unusual for a Coast Guard ship,” said Travers.

“Fortunately, the Coast Guard is very, very welcoming and inclusive.”

The US Coast Guard have a larger percentage of women than the other military services in the United States, said Travers.

“But it’s still unusual to have a third of the crew of a Coast Guard Cutter being female, so it’s definitely wonderful to have all of us here as your guests and we are very grateful.”

Travers acknowledged the women who came before to set the way for the rest of them to pursue careers that have historically not been filled by women – “those who have really been the pioneers who laid the way for all of us to follow and have the opportunities”.

She says a great example of female leadership in the US Coast Guard is Admiral Linda Lee Fagan, the United States Coast Guard admiral who serves as the 27th Commandant of the Coast Guard.

Admiral Fagan is the first female Commandant of the Coast Guard Services and she is also the first female head of any military service in the US.

Travers says she is fortunate to serve alongside and work for many capable women.

“We’ve also been fortunate to have a wonderful welcoming …. on the male side of the house too, we work alongside our male crew members very easily.

“I think that environment has provided opportunities for me to pursue continuing to go to sea, in an environment that was not really the way of things many decades before.”

Recognising that Te Kukupa II has two female crew members, she looks forward to sharing her experiences with others throughout the Pacific.

“How we as women are able to serve at sea … , but, hopefully inspiring other young women who may be interested in a career out in the ocean or patrolling the coast.

“Hopefully when women see others doing something they’d like to do…, and with confidence are able to move forward and pursue that.”

When asked if she had ever faced bias in her career, Travers said from a personal standpoint, she was very fortunate to work with colleagues who were very supportive of her work and goals.

“There really has not been many times in my career where I felt treated differently on account of being a female,” she said.

She shared her second tour experience as a young junior officer (2008-2010) where she served on a small ship with 16 crew members. Travers was the only female on board.

“I will say I was not treated in a derogatory manner because I was the only female but it was lonely at times.

“We’re part of the team, we work together, it’s not any harder because we’re led by a woman leadership team or have women on board. We’re Coast Guard, this is our mission and we go out and do the mission to the best of our ability and that’s it.”

Teina Mackenzie-Hoff, the former vice chair of the Pacific Women in Maritime Association, was amazed to see the female crew visiting and helping the Cook Islands with monitoring and surveillance.

“What this really shows is the visibility of how women can get into these different roles of which there are a number of them on the vessel … and for Pacific women in maritime, it’s really important to see women in these roles.”

The visibility creates the awareness, the interest and the belief that a lot more women can come into quite a male dominated sector, adds Mackenzie-Hoff.

“It’s really heartening and inspirational to meet these women and to listen to Commander Travis.

“We want to increase women in maritime throughout the Pacific and we want young women to recognise that a career in the maritime industry is viable and achievable.”

Mackenzie-Hoff acknowledged BCI for “bringing this awareness and visibility to the rest of the community so some of our younger students can see this as a career option in the future, and we have a huge ocean that needs tending to so we need everyone”.

Taputu Mariri, the coordinator of the Cook Islands National Council of Women (CINCW), alongside BCI presented the Coast Guard women with gifts.

The BCI’s own trailblazers in breaking the gender divide were also recognised – CEO Vaine Arioka who has been at the helm approaching 12 years, and the BCI board of directors’ chairperson Jeanne Matenga Isamaela and deputy chairperson Rebecca Wood. 

In the audience were representatives from Maritime Cook Islands, Pacific Women in Maritime Association, Cook Islands Vaka Voyaging Society, Cook Islands Pearl Industry, Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority, Climate Change Office and Development Coordination Division-MFEM, Business and Professional Women’s Association, CINCW and Child Welfare.