All Hands on Deck: Twelve young Bermudians, who got their first introduction to sailing on board the ‘Spirit of Bermuda’ (pictured), are about to embark on a seaman’s course run by a school in Massachusetts.  *File photo
All Hands on Deck: Twelve young Bermudians, who got their first introduction to sailing on board the ‘Spirit of Bermuda’ (pictured), are about to embark on a seaman’s course run by a school in Massachusetts. *File photo
Twelve young Bermudians have been accepted into a seaman's course in the U.S. that promises to provide them with life skills and qualifications for sea-faring jobs anywhere in the world.

If that wasn't enough, all their expenses will be taken care of.

The Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven, Massachusetts is absorbing the $24,000 tuition cost for each student, in what it calls a pilot programme, although the school is hoping that the National Training Board (NTB) will pay the tuition for young Bermudians who want to take courses in the future.

Peter Mello, director of Institutional Advancement for the Institute, is in Bermuda this week meeting with NTB officials, and others involved with maritime education of young Bermudians, including the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, which operates the sail training vessel Spirit of Bermuda.

Some of the 12 were set to enter the Institute last October, but according to Malcolm Kirkland, director of the Sloop Foundation, everything came to a standstill because of the election in December.

Mr. Mello said the institute has decided to proceed with the education of the 12 because "we wanted to live up to promises that were made to these young people. We are footing the bill on this pilot programme, but we do have to have confidence that in future this programme is something that will be adopted or funded by the National Training Board."

The students range in age from 16 to 31, although most are aged 17 or 18, Mr. Kirkland said.

They are either graduates or students of the Adult Education School, which they entered after dropping out of high school.

All 12 have taken Spirit of Bermuda's sail training programmes, and four are currently sailing with the Spirit on its voyage to Turks and Caicos.

Mr. Mello described the Institute as a continuing education and professional training school for mariners.

He said: "We help people get their certification, the credentials and the licenses they need to become professional competent mariners in the United States and internationally."

The students will take the able seaman's course, which will get under way on June 2 with three weeks of classroom instruction by an instructor from the institute in Bermuda at the Adult Education School.

The students will then sail on board the Spirit to Fairhaven, where they will begin nine weeks of instruction at the Institute.

Mr. Kirkland said the Spirit will sail to Fairhaven for the graduation and the 12 will have the option of continuing with the ship on its journey to Prince Edward Island, in Canada, to take part in a round-the-island race, or return to Bermuda. Mr. Mello said it's likely most will want to come home "to decompress" because the course is quite rigorous.

"They are going to be challenged pretty heavily through this period of time," he said. He predicted their experience at sea will enable them to cope with the sailing components, but they will be challenged by the academics.

He added: "We do what it takes to get people to learn. There are lots of schools you can go to in the U.S. to learn to pass a test. That's not what we're about. We're there to teach to how to become a professional mariner..."

If students are successful, they will come away with a certificate of competency-a qualification that is recognised by the U.S. Coast Guard and other international agencies.

Mr. Mello said: "They will be what's known as a rating. They will be able to go on board a ship and perform a job that isn't an officer's type job-basically an entry level position on a ship."

Once they pass the programme, the Institute will look to finding apprenticeship positions for students on commercial ships.

If the NTB agrees to pay for future programmes, he predicted a minimum of 20 Bermudians go take the course each year.

He also said the Institute welcomes the opportunity to start a connection with Bermuda because it is located in Greater New Bedford and Bermuda and New Bedford share a rich maritime heritage and sizeable numbers of residents with Portuguese ancestry.

He said: "Connecting the two communities by a youth education programme that is connected to the sea is pretty exciting. Those of us who have spent some time doing this know how many young lives have been changed by the experience of going to sea on a sailing ship."