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Foss Maritime Project Manager Michael Loomis is a 2021-2022 Saltchuk Safety Award Nominee. He recently oversaw the contract/project management and execution of the final sea voyage of the USS Kitty Hawk under tow by the Michele Foss, a journey spanning 16,351 nautical miles from Seattle, Washington, around the tip of South America to Brownsville, Texas.

Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? 

I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, in and around the water, sailing and boating. I played sports from a young age through high school. I attended the University of San Diego, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

Tell us about your career, your current position, and what led you to it.  

My career started on a bit of a different path, as I graduated college during the Great Recession and many entry-level positions in my engineering field were nonexistent. I worked as a bank teller for a few years while the economy sorted itself out. The position honed my communication skills, as I interacted with many people in both a customer service capacity and as a co-worker at all levels of the organization. An opportunity eventually arose to pursue a job in my major field, for a small boat builder as an Engineering Designer. I worked for this boat builder for seven years, moving from the Designer position to Large Boat Engineering Manager to Technical Sales Engineer for Business Development. As this was a small company, my continued growth opportunities were limited. I saw this position at Foss for a Project Manager. Many of my skills from my previous company prepared me for this role, as boat design and construction are all individual projects. I was excited to experience a company within a different maritime field, with growth opportunities within Foss and the Saltchuk family of companies. 

A pandemic is a difficult time to launch a project like the Kitty Hawk. Tell us about your thought process in designing a safe journey and why approachability and communication matter when it comes to safety. 

Surrounded by fog, two Foss tugs pull the USS Kitty Hawk through calm waters.

Planning for the Kitty Hawk project had many different variables. We had to plan vessel preparations and supplies for this long journey, crew changes in foreign countries with COVID restrictions, agent support for port calls, fuel tankers along the route, and other possible contingencies for emergencies. Planning had to take into account information and input from many different groups within Foss—Project Management, Operations, Engineering, HSQE, Procurement—and all these groups had direct impact on the success of this project. The open level of communication allowed brainstorming and discussion to ensure that we planned accordingly for every scenario, even if it was considered low risk.

Is there something in your life that drove your understanding of and commitment to safety? 

I have always been active in the outdoors, skiing, hiking, sailing, rowing, and climbing. All of these things have inherent risks. You need to understand the risks and plan for safety because if you don’t, it could end in death.

What was your first impression of Foss? Tell us your favorite story about your time with the company.  

I had been familiar with Foss long before I joined the family. My best friend growing up, her father was a Chief Engineer for Foss and served in the ocean fleet. A favorite of my time at Foss has been my experience getting to know the mariners who have served on the vessels during the projects I have managed.

Think about a time in your career when you felt like what you were doing might not be completely safe. What did you learn from that experience?  

Foss operates in environments and operations that are inherently dangerous, and we do our best to mitigate the risk in each scenario through our safety procedures and equipment. One instance that I did not feel completely safe was boarding and de-boarding the Kitty Hawk during a port call from a foreign launch in a rough seaway. I learned that not all maritime operators have the same focus on safety, and you must always be vigilant when working in these environments.

Speaking up for safety can be difficult for some people. What advice would you give to someone within our family of companies who’s convinced their feedback won’t matter—or worse, that they’ll somehow be punished for taking action?  

We have cultivated a culture within our companies where everyone has stop-work authority, regardless of position or the work we are doing. It’s important to realize that each individual’s perspective is insight that is valuable.

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.