Charting a course to success in the cruise and maritime industry, the Merchant Navy Medal for Meritorious Service has been presented to Captain Belinda Bennett of Windstar Cruises, as ‘the first black female captain in the commercial cruise industry.’ Captain Bennett was given the award for services to the promotion of the maritime sector under the auspices of the U.K. Department for Transport and Maritime & Coastguard Agency.
Her Royal Highness Princess Anne presented the Merchant Navy Medal honor, earned by those “who have gone above and beyond in their service to the maritime industry,” at Trinity House in London.
First established in 2016, the awards marks the crucial contribution that members of the Merchant Navy make to maritime safety, seafarer welfare, training, and the wider blue economy. There were 19 recipients in total, and Bennett is the second person at Windstar to receive this medal.
“Our Merchant Navy is crucial to keeping the U.K. thriving – helping deliver goods, energy and food to our homes. These 19 people are a credit not just to the maritime industry but to the wider nation. They have gone above and beyond their duty for the benefit of others,” U.K. Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani said, adding, “…Belinda’s trailblazing is [an example] of the outstanding service provided by our mariners.”
“It is an absolute honor to receive this medal. I hope that young people around the world will follow in my footsteps with hard work and dedication. I have to thank my family, friends and work colleagues for their support over the years and every day we continue to learn. My career at sea has allowed me to see much of the world and its cultures of which I am thankful. This medal may be awarded to me but it belongs to all who have supported me over the last 24 years at sea,” said Captain Bennett.
Captain Bennett is Windstar’s first female captain and is the first black captain in the commercial cruise industry. She has been with Windstar Cruises for more than 13 years. In January 2016, Capt. Bennett was named Master of MSY , a 4-masted sailing ship accommodating 148 guests, 101 crew, with four decks and a gross tonnage of 5,307 GRT.
“We are beyond proud of Captain Bennett not only for what she represents to the cruise industry but also her determination and perseverance in the very competitive and vital maritime industry. Belinda is a great role model for our junior officers and cadets. We are happy for her success and the inspiration that is to be gained by her story,” said Windstar Vice President of Operations Christopher Prelog.
Hailing originally from one of the most remote islands in the world, St. Helena – a part of the British Overseas Territory, Bennett naturally became immersed with life at sea. She started as a deck cadet at age 17 on her home island ship the RMS St. Helena – a cargo ship that transports vital supplies to the remote island from the African coast. Just four years later, she had climbed the ranks to Third Officer and ultimately stayed on board for an additional five years, until departing in 2003 as the second officer. Following a brief stretch as chief officer for private charter yacht SS Delphine, and Isle of Man Steam Packet ferries, Bennett joined Windstar Cruises as Second Officer at the Port of Monaco in September 2005. Bennett has worked on a variety of Windstar ships over her 13-year career progressing to chief officer and now captain with the small ship line. Read Captain Belinda’s interview with TravelAge West.