Alaska fishermen displaced by the Covid pandemic are being recruited for merchant marine jobs aboard U.S. ships from tankers to towboats, cargo barges, cruise and research ships and more.

The Seafarers International Union is calling for 300 apprentice workers to serve in three shipboard departments: deck, engine and steward.

“We are looking for several different types of people – we’re looking for able bodied seamen, but in our world, they’re called Able Seafarer Deck because it has to have that qualification in order to sail internationally around the world.”

Bart Rogers is assistant vice president at the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Maryland that has trained mariners for the Seafarers Union for over 50 years.

People with culinary experience also are wanted to be trained as chief cooks, as well as apprentices and stewards. The training programs vary from several months to a year.

“There’s no tuition for attending the school, there are incidental costs. But it would be very appealing to people who live in Alaska, because number one, they could sail in a protected and safe environment and earn a very good wage, benefits, advanced training is guaranteed, then they could go back home and spend the money they make.”

Mariners also can schedule trips to fit in a fishing season, says Rich Berkowitz, vice president of Pacific Coast Operations at Seattle’s Transportation Institute who helps assess potential workers.

 “And that’s why that’s why it’s so appealing for Alaskans. Let’s say they’re in hospitality trades, they can work a good portion of the cruise season and then spend three or four months working in the fishing season.”

Ketchikan-based non-profit Sealink has recruited and referred up to 600 Alaskans to maritime trades for over 20 years. Bart Rogers cites a reason for the program’s success.

“And the reason for that is real simple. They make a lot of money in a short period of time, and they can still do what they what they want to do at home.”   

Chief cooks, for example, can make $8,000-$10,000 per month.

Recruitment is now open nationally, and there also are options for veterans and Native hires. Overall, Bart Rogers says Alaskans are at the top of their list.

“And the reason for that is the people from Alaska come with a work ethic already. They’ve been working since they could stand up. And that’s why they’re so good.”

Rogers adds that women make some of the best maritime workers.

“Don’t get me wrong, but the women are smarter and work harder than the men all day long.”

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