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Bahamians shine at maritime university

Two Bahamians will set sail with Royal Caribbean International this month after graduating from the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) at the top of their class and landing high-ranking jobs with the cruise line.

Shante Pearson, 23, of New Providence, boarded Grandeur of the Seas on August 14 to embark on her new career.

Grand Bahamian Tre’von Ferguson, 27, departs on Ovation of the Seas in September. Both will serve as 2nd officers on bridge watch, responsible for assisting with radio communications, safety, navigation, carrying out emergency orders, overseeing flag inventory, protocol and more.

For both Pearson and Ferguson, the voyage to the bridge has been a long one, but one they never lost hope. For both, fascination with the sea began at an early age.

“My dad, now a retired [Royal Bahamas] Defence Force officer, would allow me to accompany him when a ship was in the harbor and he’d explain everything to me,” said Pearson. When her dad was off on assignment, Pearson pulled out his navigational tools and played explorer.

At C.V. Bethel Senior High, she joined the Bahamas Maritime Cadet Corps (BMCC) and by graduation had been awarded Most Outstanding Bridge Cadet. At 17, she flew off to Africa to join a bulk carrier where she was the only female aboard in a crew of 23 men. To this day, when people ask how she did it, she said she still does not know, but one thing she was sure of – a career at sea was the only career she wanted.

If life onboard demanded fortitude, what the seas dealt could be more frightening. A three-day storm in the Bay of Biscay (a wide inlet of the North Atlantic Ocean indenting the coast of western Europe) tossed the ship around as Pearson feared the monstrous waves would swallow it whole. The bulk carrier stint lasted 10 long months.

Grand Bahamian Tre’von Ferguson.

Back on land, Pearson, determined to equip herself with the maritime academics she needed to advance, earned a Royal Caribbean scholarship to the LJM Maritime Academy, where she flew through the tough courses, earning another Royal Caribbean scholarship to the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU). But it was during the first academy’s graduation ceremony aboard the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, that she first witnessed the glamor and romance of a large ship and vowed to one day find a place for her talent on one.

She earned her certification, graduating as 2020 valedictorian from CMU and applied immediately for what she called her “dream career”.

“Years of hard work and dedication are paying off,” she said. “I am about to embark on a new journey on one of Royal Caribbean’s ships, the dream job I have been working toward all my life.”

Like Pearson, Ferguson’s story begins early. His uncle was a fisherman who took young Ferguson with him for long summer fishing trips. In winter months, when Ferguson was in school, he’d live for the end-of-fishing-day stories his uncle would tell. His mother held a highly responsible position with the Freeport Container Port as a ship planner and young Ferguson became a familiar face around the office.

“At a very early age, I developed an understanding of the beauty and the dangers of the sea, so while attending St. George’s High School in Grand Bahama, I joined the Bahamas Maritime Cadet Corp in my senior year to broaden my horizon in the maritime field.”

Knowing if he wanted a career in the world of ships and shipping, he needed to speak more than English.So, at 17, Ferguson took off for university in Cuba, the closest place he knew to learn Spanish. As he completed the intensive course, LJM Maritime Academy was opening on what used to be the grounds and underwater observatory of Coral World in New Providence. Ferguson applied, was accepted and graduated near the top of his class.

He, too, stepped into the work aboard a container ship within the first three months of the job, landing him back in Grand Bahama.

“Locals were not used to seeing Bahamians sail at that port. The stevedores would ask me if I was African,” he joked. “It was my first taste of commercial shipping and it made me hungry for more.” He then moved onto a bulk carrier. “My most memorable moment arose when the vessel was collecting coal from Colombia to transport to Saudi Arabia. There was no land in sight for weeks as the vessel went through blackouts, extreme weather and piracy scares. The excitement of the unknown and having to be able to think on your feet constantly was more than enough to persuade me to want more.”

Ferguson apprenticed, studied for his officer of the watch certification and again, a mirror of Pearson, was a standout at CMU.

When Pearson and Ferguson set sail with Royal Caribbean, they will be among a growing number of Bahamians joining the company. More than 300 locals, including managers of nearly every department or division, are employed by Royal Caribbean at its private island destination experience, PerfectDay at CocoCay in the Berry Islands.

A Royal Caribbean executive said it is not just the new officers who are excited about Bahamians being on the bridge of some of the world’s largest and grandest ships.

“The Bahamas was our very first port of call more than half a century ago and is still our number one destination in terms of ship arrivals,” said Russell Benford, vice president, Government Relations, Americas. “So, we are really happy and excited to be welcoming more Bahamians onboard in critical roles and we hope the numbers will continue to increase from month-to-month and year-to-year. Ferguson and Pearson are both incredibly impressive. We know there are others out there and we want to encourage them to come aboard.”

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