Chief Cook Norasith Noy Phetphommasouk (who goes by Noy) has taken a unique path to become a mariner, a journey he never intended to make.
He’s grateful for how it’s working out, though.
“I had no connection with the maritime industry before I joined the SIU,” Noy said. “None of my family was involved with shipping in any way.”
Before he became a mariner, he owned Pho Vatsana, a restaurant in Wasilla, Alaska, where he still lives. He opened the restaurant in 2013, but issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic forced Noy to close his business. Looking for a way to use his restaurant experience in a new career, Noy was referred to the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education by the Alaska Department of Labor, which also helped pay for his travel, documentation and required medical tests. He passed the Chief Cook Advanced Training and Assessment Program, and has since shipped out on a TOTE-operated car carrier.
According to Rich Berkowitz, the Transportation Institute’s vice president of Pacific Coast Operations, “Given the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on his business, Noy was designated as a displaced worker. He is a Laotian refugee, and was looking forward to working on a military support vessel operated by one of our commercial partner companies. He told me he wants to do so to give back to a country that has offered him and his family so many opportunities.”
Noy described his first voyage as very positive. “My experience as a first-time sailor on board a ship is really amazing,” he said. “Nice, clean, personal living quarters, which I was surprised to find is really quite comfortable. The ship is very large, so you can’t really feel that it’s moving, aside from the very low vibration from the engine. Personally, I like it a lot. Using the Internet is the only means of personal communication, which can be understandably slow at times, but with a little patience it all works out.”
“The training at the Paul Hall Center was a good experience,” he added. “The facility is very attractive, clean and well designed. All the food, the living quarters and all the accommodations were very good. The instructors are all very knowledgeable and very professional. I would like to thank everyone on the ‘A-Team’ who gave me this opportunity: Ralph Mirsky (from the Ketchikan-based nonprofit SeaLink), Richard Berkowitz, and Barbara Brown with the State of Alaska DOL, for being such wonderful mentors.”
As for his future as a mariner, Noy is looking forward to a long career at sea: “I will continue to sail as long as I can. Even though I am new to this industry, I know there’s so much to learn, and I look forward to a time when I have enough experience to be able to help guide other mariners. I would like to be able to help the next generation join this industry, and hope to share my experiences with others. I highly recommend this career path to those who would like to join the industry and become a mariner. This is a perfect way to start.”