News

Island’s Pilot Warden talks about career

  • Many changes: Pilot Warden Mario Thompson talks about being a black man in the white-centric maritime trade in the Eighties(Photograph by Blaire Simmons).

Bermuda’s Pilot Warden who moved up the ranks as a black man in a mostly white global maritime industry said that the profession had come a long way since he started.

Mario Thompson, who has worked at sea for more than 40 years, said that he aimed to become one of the few black people in a powerful maritime position when he joined in the 1980s.

However, he added that people from all walks of life have now joined the sector.

Mr Thompson said: “In the last 30 years there’s definitely been a change and upswing for black people seeking careers as officers in ships.

“This used to be a predominantly male-orientated industry, but women are very prevalent in today’s maritime world, so for me to shake the hand of a female captain is amazing.”

Mr Thompson, 59, said that he had dreamt of a life on the ocean waves since he was a child.

He added he started work at Dockyard as day-release pupil from Warwick Secondary School in the late 1970s.

Mr Thompson said the “eye-opener” of an experience convinced him to become a branch pilot in the Department of Marine and Ports.

He added: “From a very young age, I had visions of working on the water. I couldn’t really see myself in a suit and tie working in town.”

Mr Thompson said that he worked with marine and ports for two years before he signed up in the Merchant Navy.

He explained that he circumnavigated the globe twice on his ship, which had a “multinational crew”.

Mr Thompson added that, although many Pilot Wardens in Bermuda had been black, the majority of those in top positions in the maritime trade across the globe were white.

He said: “Back in the day, the merchant ship navy was predominantly European-run.

“I was definitely a minority on the ships that I worked on, but I was always treated fairly.”

Mr Thompson said that the experience convinced him to set a course for Pilot Warden.

He explained: “I just wasn’t content to stay right there — I thought ‘you know what, I can do this and I’m just going to take the next leap of faith’.”

Mr Thompson added: “Many Pilot Wardens in Bermuda came from freed slaves and black men, so that’s the legacy that I’ve built my career on.

“I’m not by any stretch the first black officer, but there were not very many black people, and certainly not many Bermudians at the time, at sea.”

He said that he signed up for the branch pilot service after he returned to Bermuda in 1982 and worked his way up the ladder until he became a Pilot Warden in 2018.

Mr Thompson added: “There was always a degree of satisfaction on boarding the ship and being recognised in my professional capacity as a black man and a pilot.

“Even when I first started, people looked at me and said ‘that’s a young black man’. At that stage in my life that gave me a great deal of satisfaction.”

Mr Thompson said that he chose to “give back” by teaching coastal navigation across the island through community schools.

Mr Thompson said that more programmes had been created to get young Bermudians interested in the maritime industry.

He added that he wanted see a maritime academy established on the island.