By GYNNIE KERO
RACHAEL Luru’s job as a fisheries observer means being away at sea for weeks on end – living and working among an all-men crew.
She is the only woman among the 270 fisheries observers employed by the National Fisheries Authority.
“It wasn’t easy. They say respect is earned and so bearing that in mind, my code of conduct was of utmost importance. Knowing my boundaries and the laws protecting my rights and responsibilities as an observer, I executed the tasks delegated to me without fear or favour. In this way I earned their (men’s) respect.”
Rachael was born and raised in Kimbe, West New Britain. She is the fourth eldest in a family of seven. Her parents are from Yabiufa in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, and Yaro village in Pangia, Southern Highlands.
She has two children – Rocky, 12, and Kiara. Rocky is extra special in the family because he is a leapling – born on Feb 29, 2008. It means he celebrates his birthday once every four years. Rachael attended Port Moresby National High School before studying at the Fisheries College in Kavieng. And while working, she did a one year course online sponsored by the Fisheries Forum Agency in Honiara.
“I am used to travelling on passenger ships and being close to the sea. When I saw the advertisement (for fisheries observers) in the paper, it attracted my attention. I knew that I am used to be out at sea for long periods and okay with it. So I applied.”
Her parents initially disagreed with her decision to join the NFA programme for observers, who are also referred to as “our eyes and ears at sea”.
But they eventually came around and supported her, as long as she was happy and had a job to help her look after her family.
Before becoming an observer, she was in the process of securing a part-time job as a customer care agent.
“I was trying to enrol in one of the education institutes here in Port Moresby.”
Her job requires that she spends weeks in a row at sea collecting scientific data related to fisheries for the country’s conservation of tuna programme. She observes, records data on target tuna catch, and identifies the species. PNG is one of the largest and most productive commercial tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
According to FFA fisheries development division acting director Chris Reid, the tuna catch in PNG waters in 2018 alone was valued at more than US$700 million (K2.38bil).
Rachael can vividly remember the first day she was put on a fishing vessel.
“It was in 2011, about two weeks after I graduated from the basic observer training in Kavieng. I was assigned my first mission on the fishing vessel Dolores 828 in Madang.
“The trip was for 30 days. At first, I panicked when I went on board to go through the formal placement meetings. But I was reassured by the Fishing Master and the Senior Fisheries Officer that everything was going to be okay. I felt at ease a few hours after leaving Vidar in Madang.”
Of course she felt homesick at sea.
“Knowing that I would be away for weeks was very hard to process. I started to worry about my family, especially my son. But I got over it and the weeks that followed were one of the best moments of my life at sea.”
In 2011, she topped her class undergoing basic observer training. She was one of two women in a group of 16. All qualified as observers at the National Fisheries College in Kavieng.
In 2013, she got a Pacific Islands Regional Debriefers Certificate. In 2014, she received a Marine Stewardship Council certificate. Last year, she qualified as a debriefer assessor, becoming the only female to qualify for that position in the region.
She also received the Certificate IV in Fisheries Enforcement and Compliance at the University of South Pacific campus in Honiara.
“ I am always mindful of my working environment and the way I relate with my colleagues as I am the only female on board. My code of conduct and my approach is of utmost importance and priority as a female observer.”
She is aware that safety is a concern the NFA has taken steps to address for its fisheries observers.
“I am safety conscious too while at sea. The same for my colleagues. Safety is priority and I go out to sea with care.”
Her biggest challenge is living and working among an all-man crew in the middle of the ocean.
“I am always mindful of my working environment and the way I relate with my colleagues as I am the only female on board. My code of conduct and my approach is of utmost importance and priority as a female observer.”
There’s no stopping Rachael.