Young seafarer hopes to encourage more female seafarers | WWF

Young seafarer hopes to encourage more female seafarers

Posted on 05 May 2019
Lupe Meitakui He’Ofa next to Solander V where she is serving her practical.
© WWF Pacific / Ravai Vafo'ou
Enjoying what she is passionate about and having an appetite to better herself, is what drives Lupe Meitakui He’Ofa to achieve her goals within Fiji’s offshore fishing industry.

The 19 year old Ha’apai, Tongan with maternal links to Nanoko village, in the province of Navosa, is a recipient of the Deckhand Fishing Programme scholarship that is funded by the New Zealand government.

As part of the tuition funded three year programme, the young deck hand apprentice, is currently serving her 12 months practical onboard, one of Solander (Pacific) Limited’s nine Marine Stewardship Council  marine stewardship council certified fishing vessels.
Lupe recently graduated with a certificate from the Fiji Maritime Academy’s (FMA) Deck Hand Fishing Programme which focused on Basic Sea Safety, Basic Sea Survival Techniques, Firefighting, and First Aid.
A new training module on Bycatch and Mitigation, recently developed early this year has also been incorporated into the curriculum, and its newest module Bycatch.
According to Lupe, the one month theoretical training provided by the FMA had prepared her well for her attachment. Recently, Lupe and the crew of Solander V berthed after a 19 day fishing expedition.

“Definitely, the Deck Hand Fishing Programme prepared me for my practical. What I understand is that, current experienced seafarers all learned on the job. I was fortunate to get theory training in a classroom before joining the workforce. So prior to joining Solander V, I had fair knowledge on what was expected of me as a deck hand apprentice,” she said.

The inclusion of the bycatch module in the Deck Hand Fishing Programme, Lupe admits, has also prepared her well for the need to protect endangered species out at sea.

“The bycatch training that was part of the Deck Hand Fishing Programme, also allowed me to build my capacity in terms of how to mitigate bycatch caught whilst we were out at sea. We went through the module at FMA and then on my practical, I knew the processes of mitigating bycatch,” added Lupe.
The bycatch component further strengthens WWF’s Areas of Collective Action and Innovation (ACAI) commitment towards Wildlife and Oceans through increasing awareness on the catch of non-target species by offshore fishing vessels. This also includes the incidental or unintentional catch of ‘species of special interest’ or endangered and protected species such as turtles, sharks and seabirds by the tuna longliners.
The bycatch module helps build awareness for the deckhand trainees on the importance of minimising to the furthest extent possible the impact fisheries operations may have on these endangered and protected species while out at sea.
The Offshore Fishing Skipper Programme is possible through WWF-Pacific’s ‘Developing Sustainable and Responsible Tuna Longline Fisheries in Fiji’ project that is funded by the New Zealand Government through it's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and coordinated through WWF New Zealand. The project is a partnership between Fiji’s Ministry of Fisheries, Fiji Fishing Industry Association, FMA and WWF Pacific.
For Lupe, she is grateful to be one of 15 scholarship recipients of the Offshore Fishing Skipper Programme, as she has been given an opportunity to fulfil her dreams within the maritime industry. She is also grateful to Solander (Fiji) Limited, for providing her the opportunity with to serve her attachment.

“I was enrolled earlier at FMA for the Nautical Science course but could not finish the course as my family and I, had faced financial issues. I came across the scholarship opportunity through one of the newspapers and applied for it and now I am into the second stage of the programme, which is a 12 month attachment. I would like to become a captain someday and I know for me, it all starts from finishing this programme.”
“I also would like to thank the government and people of New Zealand, FMA and Solander for making it possible for people like me to get a chance of not only bettering ourselves but the lives of our families and friends. My message to other youths and Fijians is to make the most of opportunities that come your way as you might not get that chance again,” added He’Ofa.

Still having a long way to go within this demanding industry, Lupe hopes her progress and success would inspire other young females who plan on taking the career path she has chosen.

“Women can also do well in this industry that is dominated by men. It just takes determination and the willingness to learn. Nothing is impossible and if one is willing they can. I just started my sea time and it was a challenge at first and am slowly getting used to these challenges and I know, the more sea time I get, the better a seafarer I will become. The hours I accumulate will allow me to move further up and eventually become a captain one day,” added Lupe.

For WWF Pacific’s Fisheries Policy Officer, Vilisoni Tarabe, he noted that it was great to see the progress made by Lupe.

“What stood out for me was seeing a female student eager to getting a placement in one of the fishing vessels and actually experiencing for the first time life out at sea on a fishing vessel that would predominantly employ male workers. I am also happy with her response in regards to the living conditions onboard the fishing vessel and how she was taken good care of whilst out at sea and with the crew providing her a bed to sleep on and was fed well.”

“She also mentioned that the crew members were very supportive in helping her in setting and hauling activities knowing that it is a male dominant work. She also added that she socialized well with the crew and officers onboard. More sea time will enable her to get more experience with life out at sea and the hard work involved in catching targeted tuna species as well as proper handling and mitigation of any bycatch species,” added Tarabe.

For the skipper of Solander V, Captain Sesoni Vinakailoma, having a female crew for the first time has its challenges but one that more time out at sea would address.

“Lupe is a girl and that is what I briefed our operations team on in terms of not expecting her or any other girl to initially perform some of the more physically challenging tasks that the male crew are able to do. But she did well in terms of her first trip and I have requested for more trips for her as experience counts and it will only improve her capabilities,” added Captain Vinakailoma.
Lupe Meitakui He’Ofa next to Solander V where she is serving her practical.
© WWF Pacific / Ravai Vafo'ou Enlarge
Lupe Meitakui He’Ofa part of the off loading process at Muaivalu Wharf.
© WWF Pacific / Ravai Vafo'ou Enlarge
Lupe Meitakui He’Ofa with WWF Pacific, FMA and a fellow seafearer at the Muaivalu wharf.
© WWF Pacific / Ravai Vafo'ou Enlarge
Lupe with WWF Pacific's Fisheries Policy Officer, Vilisoni Tarabe.
© WWF Pacific / Ravai Vafo'ou Enlarge