WORKING AS A photojournalist, I’ve had assignments to photograph stories about the maritime industry throughout the years. But, it wasn’t until recently that I learned about the opportunities available in this field for young people, including Highline School District’s new Maritime High School. Many of the jobs can pay more than the state average, especially with postsecondary training, certificate programs and apprenticeship programs with local unions.
While researching this week’s cover story on the industry — and shadowing some of the talented women who in work in maritime — I learned about several Northwest initiatives started to help the industry become more welcoming, inclusive and safe.
Elma Burnham, of Bellingham, created Strength of the Tides in 2017 to “support, celebrate and empower women, trans and genderqueer people on the water.” Burnham created a workplace safety pledge — that more than 500 people have signed — to commit to “work toward an industry that is free of sexual assault.”
Elizabeth Simenstad, a Seattle resident and tugboat captain-in-training, started the nonprofit Sea Sisters — a community promoting the recruitment and retention of women in maritime. Their website and social media channels serve as a resource for careers and advancement, a place for women to develop networks and a space for mentorship and support — including resources for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment at sea.
British Columbia’s Buki Hough, an assistant manager of marine personnel at Seaspan, started the Melanated Mariners Instagram page in February to showcase and celebrate Black excellence within the North American maritime industry.
Hough started working at a Vancouver Island maritime college in 2014, and she soon became involved with forums addressing the lack of women and Indigenous maritime workers. After the murder of George Floyd, Hough says something “clicked” inside her to address her own experience of often being the only Black woman in meetings, and the lack of conversation about the underrepresentation of the Black community in the maritime industry.
“There wasn’t a lot of the maritime industry addressing issues related to racism, anti-racism, the Black experience within the industry, so I felt it was about time somebody stood up and started having those conversations,” she says. “My biggest hope is that young, Black people come to the page, see themselves represented in the people that we feature, and have that thought, ‘Oh wow, I can do this. I belong in this industry.’ “