Irish Institute of Master Mariners elects first female president
Sinéad Reen has navigated world’s shipping routes at helm of supertankers and cruise ships
Capt Sinéad Reen: security at sea, substandard ships, changing weather patterns, pollution and the trend towards “criminalisation” of ship’s captains are among issues which she will be addressing as president of the master mariners’ representative organisation
Sea captain Sinéad Reen has become the first woman to be elected president of the Irish Institute of Master Mariners. Capt Reen, who is originally from Clare but lives in Crosshaven, Co Cork, was the first woman to qualify as a deck officer in Ireland. She has navigated the world’s main shipping routes at the helm of supertankers and cruise ships.
Piracy and security at sea, substandard ships, changing weather patterns, pollution issues and the trend towards “criminalisation” of ship’s captains are among issues which she will be addressing as president of the master mariners’ representative organisation.
As Capt Reen points out, some ships are now forced to carry “riding squads” of armed security due to the risks posed by piracy. Commercial seafaring is the world’s second most dangerous occupation after commercial fishing. Some 2,000 ship’s crew lose their lives annually, according to the International Transport Workers Federation.
Pressure on crews due to increased competition is said to have had a negative impact on some standards, while low pay is also an issue. Some 25 per cent of the world’s mercantile marine crew are Filipino.
The Irish Institute of Master Mariners has about 200 members, three of whom, including Capt Reen, are women.
She “grew up on the end of a runway” at Shannon and her father worked with the Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre, then based at the airport. However, it was time spent on the former sail training brigantine Asgard II that gave her an appetite for a career at sea, while her surname – Ní Righin – also has Viking roots. She tried for the Naval Service at a time when it would not admit women and trained instead with the merchant marine. She has worked with Esso, with BP, with the Norwegian shipping company Bergesen, and with P&O Cruises.
She now has “three anchors ashore” – as in three children – and lectures at the National Maritime College in Ringaskiddy. The college has secured a number of training contracts at Ringaskiddy, giving Irish cadets what Capt Reen describes as invaluable experience.
She admits missing life at sea, and says Santorini in the Mediterranean and the Pacific island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia are her two favourite places in the world. “I haven’t been ashore on either of them, but both look beautiful from sea and both have wonderful navigational approaches,”she says.
Her husband, Cormac MacSweeney, is also a ship’s master, working with Maersk, while her father-in-law is broadcaster and maritime journalist Tom MacSweeney.
Capt Reen foresees a time when Irish professionals – male and female – will hold some of the top positions in the world’s leading oil majors as a result.