The image of Admiral Miguel Grau, a Peruvian naval hero, moved her when she visited the Peruvian Naval Academy in the district of La Punta, a peninsula in the province of Callao. Still in high school, she dreamed of joining the Peruvian Navy (MGP, in Spanish).
She had asked her mother to take her to visit the facilities to find out whether she could achieve her goal. The year was 1998, when the naval institution opened its doors to women.
“I spent a year preparing, and, in December, I started to get my papers in order to apply. In January , I enrolled. It was about effort, study, and discipline,” MGP Lieutenant Commander Casandra Silva Gurrionero told Diálogo. Her efforts paid off.
On January 3, 2018, Lt. Cmdr. Silva assumed command of the offshore patrol vessel BAP Río Cañete, becoming the first Peruvian female officer to take over command duty aboard a coast guard vessel. She will command the unit until the end of June 2019.
For Lt. Cmdr. Silva, the integration of women within MGP has been ideal. She never felt she was treated differently; to the contrary, she cherished her time at the Naval Academy and her experience as an officer. “MGP played an important role in leading women, taking them forward to become, as in my case, the commander of a vessel,” she said.
Leader and inspiration
The BAP Río Cañete has a crew of 30, of which only two are women. Aside from the commander, the crew includes MGP Lieutenant Junior Grade Norma Maldonado, head of the Logistics Department, who recognizes the importance of having a female leader.
“The commander’s step opens a lot of doors for us because I know I will be able to reach the same level she achieved,” Lt. j.g. Maldonado told Diálogo. “It's good for me to be able to be with her and continue to learn from her actions.”
In turn, MGP Lieutenant Roberto Yokota, second in command of the BAP Río Cañete, highlighted his leader’s abilities. “She performs her job very well, commanding and instructing junior officers with her navigation experience. She knows what she’s doing,” he said. “Commander Silva's case is emblematic for MGP. My feeling is that, nowadays, women can perform any job just as well as a man can, whether in civilian or military life.”
Area of operations
The BAP Río Cañete, a variant of the South Korean class Taegeuk, is 55.3 meters long and has an 8.5-meter beam. With a displacement of 500 tons, it can reach a speed of 22 knots.
Homeported in Callao Naval Base, the ship counts with an area of operations comprising the seas and coasts from Punta Toma-Calla in northern Lima to Punta Loberí in the province of Cañete, to the south. The navigable rivers in the departments of Lima, Pasco, and Junín are also under its jurisdiction.
“We provide safety for human life at sea, protect the environment, and fight illegal activity, such as smuggling and human, arms, and fuel trafficking,” Lt. Cmdr. Silva explained. “We monitor fishing boats to see whether they have their documents in order and are in compliance with maritime authority regulations. We also carry out operations in conjunction with the Ministry of Production, which audits and regulates activities with us.”
In less than two months, Lt. Cmdr. Silva demonstrated her skills through several successful operations. One of these was the rescue of a vessel, and its crew of five, stranded 70 nautical miles from the coast in the area of Supe, a port north of Lima.
To achieve her goals, the new commander leans on her crew, whose support she feels. “For an officer to carry out her command, she has to have the firm support of her personnel,” she confessed. “The people are very committed.”
According to Lt. Yokota, although navigation under the new commander has only recently begun, the personnel approves of her appointment and is impressed with her leadership skills. “The personnel saw that the commander makes very good decisions and doesn’t hesitate to carry out her orders,” he said.
Lt. Cmdr. Silva greatly enjoys the autonomy that comes with commanding a coast guard vessel and continues to aspire to more in her military career. “If I continue, I hope to become an admiral, but there's a ways to go,” she acknowledged.
She doesn’t hesitate to send a message to women who may be interested in joining MGP. “Apply, achieve your goals, move forward,” the commander concluded. “MGP is a wonderful profession, and you'll be greatly rewarded in the long run. You'll take on more duties, but gain greater satisfaction.”