Woodside-Leeuwin cadets, Mitchell Cullen and Louis Riboni, receiving their Nautical Institute of WA awards

The Nautical Institute of WA Annual Award recognises the academic and personal achievement of students undertaking formal nautical studies. NI WA Branch Honorary Chairman, Capt. Peter Waller recently presented the 2021 Annual Awards to Mitchell Cullen and Louis Riboni, both of whom have recently completed their Woodside sponsored 12-month cadetship on STS Leeuwin II. Louis and Mitch have since secured employment in the maritime industry, and we were able to have a chat with them both about their maritime experience.

Both Mitch and Louis are currently working towards achieving their Navigational Watch Rating Certificate of Proficiency at Coral Expeditions, working in the Kimberley and around Australia on an expedition cruise ship that goes to remote places. But let’s take a step back to the beginning of their maritime journey.

Louis had his first trip with Leeuwin Ocean Adventure when he was 16 as a trainee, and after enjoying it so much he decided to come back as a volunteer. Working as a volunteer for about a year, he became a Watch Leader working with trainee crew leading them through the sail-training program. It was then that Louis decided to apply for the Woodside-Leeuwin Maritime Cadetship Program which allows aspiring volunteers to get on-the-job training and strive towards achieving entry-level maritime certificates. After all his hard work and dedication, he was lucky enough to secure a position as a Woodside-Leeuwin cadet.

Mitch had been a volunteer at Leeuwin Ocean Adventure for 10 years, starting back in 2011, and then later came back as a Watch Leader. His experience with Leeuwin was “on-and-off” while he was still working and studying at university to achieve a Bachelor of Science. “I heard about the cadetship program, so I applied for it.” Wanting to upskill and gain a few more qualifications, Mitch says the cadetship is a great way to get your foot in the door as it can be hard to get maritime experience, especially sea time, adding it was “just the natural next choice.”

Both Mitch and Louis always wanted to have a career in the maritime industry since they were young boys; working at sea and on ships was a huge pastime in Louis’ youth. “It was a good way to get my foot in the door and into the industry so I could start working towards my commercial tickets,” Louis explained.

The Nautical Institute of WA Annual Award recognises students undertaking formal nautical studies and during the cadetship, Louis and Mitch studied their Certificate III in Maritime Operations Master less than 24 Metres Near Coastal which allows them to master a vessel 24 metres and under. The Certificate II in Maritime Operations Marine Engine Driver 2, qualifies them to work as an engineer on a vessel under 750 kilowatts. They now both hold these qualifications and credit the Woodside sponsored Leeuwin cadetship for helping them achieve their maritime qualifications.

Determined to accelerate his career, Louis is currently studying his Master less than 35 Metres Near Coastal which will allow him to master larger vessels. His next goal is to achieve a Deck Watchkeeper at university which will require more sea time to be accrued followed by a full year at university.

To put things into perspective, Louis needs to achieve a minimum of 1,800 days at sea on top of the time spent at university!

Mitch and Louis had a particularly unique experience compared to other years as they had to deal with COVID which hit in 2020. “We had no idea about what was happening so when we first came back at the peak of COVID it was like a zombie apocalypse.” Mitch chuckled.

Louis laughed, mentioning “sometimes coming back to land is like being in a time machine – you need to catch up with everything and all the news and events you missed. When we rocked up at Fremantle there were four cruise ships anchored outside and we had no idea what was going on… there was no one there to pick us up or catch our lines, it was pretty wild.”

Despite their love of life at sea, Mitch and Louis are open about the challenges they’ve experienced over the years.

Louis has always loved being out in nature and working out at sea, so it never feels like a job to him. “The hardest part is just being away from home for long, long periods and having no connection with family or friends. Then there are the days when it’s endless bad weather and you’re the person in charge of groups of people. It can get really stressful.”

Mitch feels the same but as with anything, you must take the bad with the good. He is grateful that he’s been able to visit amazing places he wouldn’t normally have seen. “Working the past 6 months in the Kimberley has been great, and I’ve also done Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef. It’s just so rewarding and it’s cool to see what you’ve achieved and what you’re doing.”

When it came to offering advice to anyone thinking about applying for the Woodside-Leeuwin Maritime Cadetship Program, both Louis and Mitch believe that having some previous experience and being ready to fully commit is important – both your heart and head must be in it.

“It’s a big commitment. You should be sure that it is 100% what you want to do. It’s a great opportunity to see the maritime industry,” Louis says, “I didn’t spend much time at home – I was constantly working at sea trying to get my tickets done quickly. If you had never worked at sea before it can be quite a shock and difficult to adjust to the lifestyle of jumping around other ships and vessels” he added.

“In saying that, I loved the cadetship! Being with Leeuwin before meant I knew everyone and already was a part of the community, which made it a lot more welcoming. Woodside was great, especially the opportunities that they gave us on tugboats and the offshore ships, it got me a lot of much needed experience that I couldn’t have otherwise got.” Louis explained.

Mitch agrees that the program is truly invaluable. “You get so many connections that are normally so hard to find when going through other channels. If you’re thinking about it, just apply, you have nothing to lose.”

Congratulations Mitch and Louis on your well-deserved award! Thank you to the ongoing support of our sponsors of the cadetship program, Woodside, and the Nautical Institute for acknowledging the achievement of these two hardworking and passionate young men.

For more information on the Woodside-Leeuwin Cadetship Program and how you can kickstart your marine or maritime career visit