Malta pays tribute to first women master mariners

Maltese government officials joined with Wista representatives to celebrate the first five women in the country to gain their master’s certificates, in a ceremony at this week’s Malta Maritime Summit. Transport minister Ian Borg said more must be done to increase the number of women in seafaring, which has lagged behind shore-based maritime jobs in gender diversity

Transport minister Ian Borg pledges empowerment of more women in maritime industry after hailing first five captains as trail-blazers Malta has paid tribute to its first five women masters — four of whom, Captains Abigail Xerri, Carmen Darmanin, Jacqueline Spiteri and Laura Falzon, were ashore to participate in the ceremony.

FIVE female master mariners, the first women to reach this rank in Malta, have been celebrated by the Maltese government and representatives of the shipping industry.

“The achievement of Malta’s first group of female master mariners is to be considered a pivotal moment for Malta’s rich maritime tradition,” said the country’s transport minister, Ian Borg.

Presenting mementoes to four of the ship’s masters — Captains Abigail Xerri, Carmen Darmanin, Jacqueline Spiteri and Laura Falzon — Dr Borg described them as “trail-blazing captains” who had been able to break down rigid gender roles in the industry.

The fifth master mariner, Pauline Bonnici, was unable to participate in the ceremony, held in conjunction with the Malta Maritime Summit, because she was at sea.

The five masters have been serving as captains commanding a variety of Maltese tonnage, including ferries, tankers and containerships.

Speaking on behalf of the five, Capt Falzon said she had embarked on her first ship at the age of 17 and she described how initial feelings of homesickness had given way to an appetite for the oceans’ endless horizons.

“It has not been an easy task. We have stood up against a number of odds,” said Capt Falzon.

“The work and stormy weather in fact have been the easiest of the obstacles to overcome.

“We had to prove ourselves to people who think that a woman has no place being on a boat. But the old mentality seems to be changing and becoming a thing of the past. This recognition makes us feel proud,” she said.

“The picture [in shipping] is not completely bleak,” said Dr Borg. “Woman are well-represented in shore-based industry jobs. It has been seafaring that lags behind with women representing a small percentage of the world seafaring community.

“My duty is now to ensure that more women are empowered in the maritime industry, which is an important industry for our country,” he said.

The women were congratulated by Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, president of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (Wista).

Ms Theodosiou said that the first ever female master gained her first command in 1935, yet the seafaring profession remained “nearly unknown” to women.

A lack of role models contributed to women seeing the profession as unfriendly, but this was slowly changing.

“We need to encourage treating the job at sea the same as shore-based jobs and to make sure that the atmosphere on board is more conducive,” she said.


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