Connie Leo: Making Waves in the Marine Industry

August 16, 2022

Connie Leo is a barge operator at Marine Petrobulk, a Seaspan ULC company. When she isn’t out at sea fuelling deep-sea vessels, she’s making waves in the marine industry as the first woman in Canada to receive full endorsement from Transport Canada after completing the Supervisor of Oil Transfer Operations (SOTO) course.

What is a typical day at work for you?

While no two days are exactly alike, communication and relationship building are two of the skills that I rely on daily in bunkering, which is the supplying and loading of fuel for use by deep-sea vessels.

On a typical day, you would find me onboard a barge, going alongside a vessel such as a cruise ship. To begin refuelling operations, I feed the hose to the crew on the other vessel, which they connect to a manifold while I control the flow of fuel. After a re-fuel is complete, I carry out procedures to ensure there is no oil remaining in the hose, to manage the risk of spills.

How is safety relevant to your role?

Safety is critical when you’re working at sea. You’re not only responsible for your own safety, but also the safety of the crew and of the environment – which is why it is so important to be proactive and aware.

Barge operators often work alone, so building a relationship with the crew onboard the other vessels is vital. Teamwork is important, you’re relying on them, and they on you, to help the operation run smoothly. I am in constant communication with the crew to ensure that there are no safety or logistical issues.

Tell us about your career path and how you got to where you are now.

I am originally from Australia and growing up it had been my dream to be in the Navy. When I moved to Canada, I obtained a position at the Western Maritime Institute, where my role involved signing students up for courses. They would come to me after, beaming, sharing the interesting experiences they had had at sea – that was when I made the decision to go from employee to student.

I dipped my toes into everything, gaining practical experience and skills before a mentor of mine suggested I enroll in the SOTO course. I completed part A (basic) and then went on to B (at sea training) and C, which is supervisor training. I got a call from Seaspan and fell in love with the job instantly.

Do you have any advice for people looking to begin a career in the marine industry?

I didn’t know what to expect but I just threw myself into the deep end, and that’s my advice for anyone looking to succeed in the marine industry.

Immerse yourself in the industry and take opportunities – try everything! Before becoming a barge operator, I fished along the coast of Vancouver Island, worked as a deckhand, and obtained a variety of skills and certifications – including Advanced Firefighting and Marine Safety Training.

With all my experiences at sea, I had never even stepped on a barge until my first day at Marine Petrobulk. Everyone starts somewhere.

What would you say to other women who are considering this field?

I often go onto deep sea vessels on my own, and crews are often surprised that a petite woman like me is doing the job I’m doing. I had never heard of another woman working as a Supervisor of Oil Transfer Operations before and being the only woman onboard a vessel in a male-dominated industry can come with its challenges, but I go into every situation with respect and expect the same in return.

At the end of the day, I love my job, and I want to show other people, including women, what I do. I even made an Instagram because there are so many interesting stories to tell! After seeing an article about me on the Western Maritime Institute website, a woman called me, saying “I didn’t even know that your job was an option for women!” It feels good knowing I am inspiring other women to go into the marine industry.