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Sailing for the sake of Mother Earth

Captain Hettie Geenen in action on board the Rainbow Warrior. – @Greenpeace

“The longer I am sailing around the world, from Greenland to Brazil, from the Marshall Islands to India, the more I see what we do with Mother Earth, and the more I feel the need to keep on working for Greenpeace, for the environment.” – Captain Hettie Geenen.

Born in Ospel, a small village in Limburg in The Netherlands, Hettie Geenen is currently the captain of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior ship.

An energy-efficient vessel, the Rainbow Warrior has been sailing and fighting for people’s rights to a stable climate and a healthy environment for many years.

Currently, it is on a five-month tour of Southeast Asia, with Captain Hettie at the helm. She is one of the few female captains braving the open seas in the world.

Captain Hettie started sailing when she was just 13 during her school holidays. Her first vessel was a small seven-meter-long keelboat

Despite having grown up far from the coast, she soon realized that she loved the sea.

Later, she decided to sail the seas professionally. But she discovered that maritime colleges in the Netherlands only allowed women to enrol if they already had a contract with a passenger shipping company.

Captain Hettie Geenen at the bridge of the Rainbow Warrior. – @Greenpeace

So she changed her plans and began an apprenticeship in a furniture-making school.

Sailing remained on her mind and she kept it up as a hobby. Then, she became a sailing instructor and eventually she became a captain on the typical barges that tourists love so much.

After 12 years, she decided to do something more meaningful. She went to a maritime school (Enkhuizer Zeevaartschool) and studied psychology for a few years.

In November 1999, she joined Greenpeace’s Toxic Free Asia Tour as a third mate on the Rainbow Warrior. It was a stopover in Manila that sealed her fate.

Hettie met six-year-old Crizel, whose family and many others had spent time in temporary shelters set up in former US military bases in the Philippines. The water and soil were contaminated with hazardous wastes. Crizel was diagnosed with leukemia when she was five.

She had heard about the Rainbow Warrior coming to the Philippines and Greenpeace’s campaign against toxic pollution and had wanted to see the ship.

Captain Hettie, with the local children in Papua New Guinea, during a tour in March 2018. – @Greenpeace

Crizel was invited on board to see the ship and meet the crew. She was one of 20 kids who all had serious illnesses. All of them had grown up on or near the military bases.

Crizel passed away in the ship’s hospital cabin, hours after fulfilling her dying wish.

“Her story convinced me that this is what I want to do,” says Captain Hettie today.

Ever since, Captain Hettie has served on the Rainbow Warrior tirelessly, despite having to be out at sea for months each time.

“Once we leave home, our mind is set on being away for three months and you get used to it. The challenge is to maintain good relations with your partner and family and friends at home. That is something I know I have to put a lot of effort into.”

People are sometimes surprised to see a female captain but she is unfazed: “For me, it’s just a job and it does not make a difference whether I am a man or a woman.

Captain Hettie, in her office on board the Rainbow Warrior. – @Greenpeace

Of course, people are not used to it. I also looked twice when I saw a female bus driver for the first time. Many people just tell me they did not expect a woman, but it is not a problem.”

In fact, Captain Hettie feels that she has the best job in the world, even after almost 20 years of sailing with the Rainbow Warrior.

“This job is different every day. No one day is the same. The weather and the sea changes, the area you are sailing in, the campaign, the crew, they all change.

“We operate at the frontline, so it’s quite practical. We bear witness (to what’s happen to our environment and different communities), so we learn a lot, every day,” she said.


Author: Elle Wong (act)



26.06.2018 | 13:11