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Mixed-sex crews make Dutch navy waves UPI LifeStyle

By DOUG COSPER

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- A handful of angry navy wives is asking the Defense Department to review its policy of having ships with mixed-sex crews, charging that ship-board promiscuity is harpooning their marriages.

The small but vocal Action Committee Against Mixed Crews joined a faint chorus of politicians and others who fear romantic tensions on board may undermine morale at sea.

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Though acknowledging the 6-year-old experiment has not been without its problems, the navy says the allegations are groundless and it intends to continue full speed ahead assigning women to what traditionally has been an all-male domain.

Included in the committee's evidence against mixed crews is a statement from a former navy doctor who served a year on one of two sexually integrated ships in the Royal Netherlands Navy, Hr. Ms. Zuiderkruis, where an average of 21 women serve alongside 159 men.

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'Sexual relations on board are a real threat' to morale, Dr. Maartan Bongaerts charged in an open letter published in a national newspaper.

'Twelve marriages of mainly petty officers broke up because of relations with a female sailors,' he said. The mixed-crew program had then, in 1982, been operating just over a year.

The doctor said sailors told him of 'orgies' and claimed 'some female sailors were whoring on board ship.'

The action committee, one member of which recently divorced a navy man who sailed with a mixed crew, 'raised ... unsubstantiated arguments,' said navy spokesman Lt. Wouter van Straten.

'I'm not aware of any whoring or orgies, but we do know gossip embellishes the slightest story.' Even if the claims were true, he said, 'we cannot accept responsibility for broken marriages.'

Mixed crews currently are confined to supply ships, but the navy plans to assign women to a combat vessel when three female officers finish naval academy training in September, van Straten said.

The navy's aim is 'no separation whatsoever' in crew task assignments, though separation naturally continues in living quarters and sanitary facilities, he said.

Several countries, including the United States, have mixed crews on support vessels, but van Stratan said Holland will be the first to assign women to a warship.

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Beyond broken marriages, critics fear shipboard jealousies create an air of tension that undermines morale, thus reducing the crews' effectiveness.

There are stirrings in the Dutch parliament for a review of the policy.

'This is a very bad project,' said member Tom de Kok. 'It will saddle the navy with a problem now and in the future.'

De Kok, a former navy officer, plans to campaign for change, though he acknowledges only 10 to 15 supporters among his 43 collegues in the Christian Democrat Party, the majority partner in Holland's ruling coalition.

The action committee produced a classified navy memorandum leaked by a sympathizer that they said refuted the navy's optimism.

The report was prepared in March by a sailors' union chairman who interviewed officers and sailors aboard the Hr. Ms. Poolster on a 5 month tour of the Far East. The author reported 'many tensions' and general dissatifaction with mixed crews.

'Jealousy has been given as the main motive of fights among the men,' he said.

His report said officers denied having relationships with women sailors, but 'the sailors frankly admitted relationships.' Three-quarters of the ship's petty officers complained of 'too many negative aspects' of mixed crews, although the majority of sailors were 'generally satisfied with the situation.'

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The navy sides with the majority of sailors, van Straten said, citing a 1981 study showing a growing acceptance of the program.

'The longer you sail with women and the closer you get to them as colleagues, the more you tend to acccept them,' he said.

De Kok dismisses the navy's reports of all's well, saying its officers are under much political pressure to make the program work.

'If it works or not, navy officers will write a report that says it works,' he said.

Christian Democrat Party spokesman Jan Krajenbrink said that while his party's still unformulated position on mixed crews was not as critical as de Kok's, it might press for a compromise to total integration of women in all defense functions based on women's physical limitations.

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