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‘Unconventional’ role

MI alumna first woman to hold Port Authority harbour master role

Campus and Community

By Moira Baird

As a high school student growing up in Bay Bulls, Melissa Williams set her sights on a career path that took her to sea and back to shore, eventually overseeing all vessel traffic and marine operations at St. John’s harbour.

Melissa Williams is manager of marine operations and harbour master for the St. John’s Port Authority.
Photo: Submitted

She saw the Marine Institute’s (MI) nautical science program, which prepares students for marine transportation careers, as her ticket to an unconventional job.

In 2016 Ms. Williams became manager of marine operations and harbour master at the St. John’s Port Authority – the first woman to hold the job and only the second at a Canadian port authority.

MI Alumni Award

Ms. Williams recently received the 2020 Marine Institute Alumni Award recognizing the professional accomplishments of graduates, their service to society and commitment to the MI and Memorial communities.

“Once you have that sense of community at Marine Institute, it never leaves you.” — Melissa Williams

She says it wasn’t always easy working in an unconventional role.

“In a predominantly male industry, I found myself on the receiving end of inequity,” she said. “Whether the bias was severe or subtle, I questioned the career path I had chosen in those moments. I found support in the faculty and staff at Marine Institute, and I’m very grateful to have a home base at MI where encouragement and reassurances reside.

“To be recognized by MI for my accomplishments is an honour,” she continued. “I’ve met some wonderful people through my affiliation with MI and I’m proud and honoured to be a member of its alumni. Once you have that sense of community at Marine Institute, it never leaves you.”

Exceptional alumna

Glenn Blackwood, vice-president of Memorial University (Marine Institute), says Ms. Williams is a role model for those embarking on careers in the marine industry.

“Melissa is an exceptional Marine Institute alumna who we are proud to celebrate,” Mr. Blackwood said. “She is forging an amazing path in the marine industry for young women and men to follow, opening up new areas where they can grow their careers and demonstrate substantial leadership in the port authority and the marine industry as a whole.”

Last year, Ms. Williams also received Turning the Tide Marine Industry Awards’ inaugural Next Wave Leadership Award recognizing young professionals in the marine sector.

Education ladder

A woman in a black shirt sits in an office with the Southside Hills behind her.
A woman in a black shirt sits in an office with the Southside Hills behind her.
Photo: Submitted

In 2008 Ms. Williams completed a diploma of technology in nautical science, a four-year program that requires students spend at least 360 days at sea.

“I wanted to be in a non-conventional role, I knew that this was something that interested me, that the work was there and I wouldn’t have to leave home to get a job,” she said.

The following year, she received a bachelor in maritime studies degree in maritime management. She also holds a master of maritime management degree, which she completed online in 2015.

“I did my degree online while I was working on offshore supply vessels and I did my master’s while I was working at the port authority.”

‘Ever-changing environment’

She enjoys the daily challenges at the port authority.

“It has exceeded my expectations,” she said. “The ever-changing environment is one of the things that I love about the job – it’s something different every day.”

Harbour masters are at the centre of marine and port operations, including vessel activity, port and marine security, traffic control, vessel berthing assignments, emergency planning and response, and enforcement of regulations.

“Everything that logistically happens with a vessel on port property all comes through us. I’m wearing a lot of hats.”

The St. John’s Port Authority serves a variety of sectors – container shipping, offshore oil supply and service, fishing, cruise ships and marine maintenance and repair. In an average year, it handles more than 2,000 commercial vessels and fishing boats.


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