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Tobagonian creates maritime history
While Kerron Brebnor may look like just a regular young man, he is the first local captain on the inter-island ferry service, and at one day shy of his 29th birthday, is one of the youngest certified captains on a large commercial vessel in this country’s maritime history.
Brebnor was born and grew up in Tobago. His mother Barbara, is an office administrator and runs a small business, and his father, Egbert, is a Pentecostal minister, who moved the family from community to community in Tobago as he took responsibility for different churches, including in Mason Hall, Bon Accord, Mt Pleasant and Sou Sou Lands in Carnbee.
The young marine master’s Pentecostal faith is important because it was as a result of a career fair in his church that he was exposed—as an 18-year-old coming to the end of his seven-year secondary school education at Bishop’s High School—to a lecture that proved pivotal in his choice of career.
The lecturer was Davidson Steve Hackett, a fully qualified chief engineer who worked on the port, who spoked movingly about his own career and the possibility of the youngsters doing something different with their lives.
“The way he presented it to me hit home and by June 2002, I had made up my mind that I was going to pursue a course in nautical studies,” said Brebnor, who played for and captained the Bishop’s football team as a central defender, and studied Geography, Chemistry and French at A-levels. That involved making arrangements to attend the Caribbean Maritime Institute at Palisadoes Park in Kingston, Jamaica in September of that year.
The decision to leave his home and go off to Jamaica was made easier by the fact that two of his friends, Richardo Alfred and Kriston Hackett, had also signed up to attend the same institute. Hackett’s father happened to be the same man who planted the seed in Brebnor’s mind about pursuing a nautical career.
All three youngsters completed the three-year programme, which involved time spent in the classroom and time spent as training officer cadets at sea. Brebnor spent his second year sea-time training on the MV Panorama. After completing the programme and obtaining his certificate of competency in early 2006, Brebnor started as a certified officer—the third mate—on the Panorama.
He was promoted to second mate on the T&T Spirit in June 2007, and by February of the following year he had moved to the T&T Express. In September 2008, Brebnor and his Tobagonian friends, Alfred and Hackett, and Trinidadian, Brendon Powder, were advancing their nautical education at the South Tyneside College in England facilitated by scholarships provided by the Port Authority.
Following his promotion to first officer in August 2010, Brebnor returned to South Tyneside in March last year to do his Master Mariner’s certificate of competence. This is an international recognised licence that allows him to be the master of any ship, anywhere in the world. The last few months have been momentous for the young captain, who got married to Coleen Pierre in December, and started in his new position on the T&T Express on January 9.
His goal is to provide a safe, efficient and timely service to those who use the fast ferries as a means of transportation between Tobago and Trinidad. As captain of one of the two locally owned fast ferries, Brebnor commands a crew of about 30 and is responsible for the safety of the passengers, the safety of the vessel, the security of everyone on board, the protection of the marine environment.
He works 28 days on and 28 days off and has already developed a reputation for getting the fast ferry off its moorings before the scheduled departure time. Asked what has driven him to achieve his life’s ambition at such a young age, Brebnor says, “From small, I am a very goal-oriented person. I set goals and I do everything within my power to drive me to where I need to be, by the grace of God.
“I would not allow obstacles to hinder me from achieving what I want to achieve. I would have had a strong faith base so any time I come up against an obstacle, I would depend on that power to get me over.” The young captain also cites his strong family support base.
“My father is my role model. He is also encouraging me to reach for the highest point. He always says to make yourself qualified so that someone can give you an answer as to why you did not get this job or that job.” He also cited the support of his close friends and colleagues who he studied with, and who push each other to strive for the best.
“I always had it in my mind to become a master. From the outset, even before I started the career, I went to see a captain on the Panorama, Captain Byron James, and he actually drew out a career path for me—from being a cadet to being a master—and all the options when you get to the top.” Captain James told him that the journey from cadet to captain was not a sprint but a marathon.
He has held on to the career path page for more than ten years and is now in a position to provide young Tobagonians he comes across with similar career advice on career paths. He talks to young Tobagonians coming out of high school who ask him how he got to be captain.
“I have encouraged a couple of them who have already started doing the course at the UTT. I drew them out the same career path that Captain James drew for me: This is how long it will take you get to stage one, stage two and stage three. Take your time and get there.” He also advises application and determination as his personal creed is that you cannot fail if your determination to succeed is strong enough.
T&T’s newest marine captain says locals can completely take over the running of the fast ferry service if the Port Authority puts in place an appropriate structure to train officers, and a competitive compensation package. He says the general sense he gets is that the Port Authority feels that workers, such as officers on the fast ferry, should not earn more than the managers.
“That’s the general sense. There is a certain wage structure that the management has to work within. That’s what they say. It is possible to improve that structure, but we sense a lot of hesitation.” He said there is a tendency to view highly trained, internationally certified professionals as “mere” civil servants and that is how “they are trying to keep it. But we are always fighting to get above that structure and always negotiating for something more appropriate for our qualifications.”
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