Skip to main content
Nautilus news

Face of Nautilus: Mark Dickinson, general secretary

17 November 2020

Mark Dickinson has been in the maritime industry for 42 years, at sea and ashore, and his career exemplifies the international nature of shipping.

'I went to sea at the age of 16, did a cadetship, then went to university after a trip on a Liberian-flagged panamax bulk carrier,' he says. 'My first permanent job after university was at the UK Chamber of Shipping, before moving swiftly onto the ITF [International Transport Workers' Federation], where I spent 12 years. In 2000 I came to NUMAST and worked alongside my great mentor Brian Orrell until 2009, when he retired and I was privileged to be elected as the first general secretary of Nautilus International.'

So that's Mark's career in a nutshell, but what does he see as the highlights so far? 'I'm very proud of my involvement in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006,' he says – 'from the initial concept forged in a curry house in east London to the adoption of the Convention. I continue this work now as Nautilus GS, seeking to ensure continuous improvement to these minimum international standards.'

His time leading the ITF campaign against flags of convenience (FOCs) and the campaign ship Global Mariner from 1998-2000 had a profound influence on Mark. 'That campaign has recently been on my mind again,' he muses, 'as Covid-19 has thrown a disparaging light on the flag of convenience system and the corrosive impact FOC registers have on the governance of the shipping industry.'

Since joining the staff of NUMAST in 2000, Mark sees his most notable achievement as driving the effort to bring British, Dutch and then Swiss maritime workers together in Nautilus International, creating and then expanding the world's first transboundary trade union for maritime professionals – and going on to forge stronger links with like-minded unions globally in the Nautilus Federation.

It's a body of work that he hopes has made his family proud over the years. 'My dad went to sea,' he explains. 'He was at Blue Funnel back in the day and a member of the National Union of Seamen. An uncle was also an engineer officer with Mobil, so I had encouragement from both of them to go to sea. Now, looking back through my family tree, it seems there were quite a few other family members who also went to sea. Growing up on Merseyside that's hardly surprising.'

An oil painting of Mark Dickinson's first vessel

Mark is glad to have followed in their footsteps, and to have reached a place in his career where he can make a real difference to the lives of others. 'To me, what I do is not a job, it's more a vocation. I love what I do. I love the people I work with and most importantly those we serve and care for.

'The best thing is meeting members and knowing I am on the side of the angels! It's a great motivating force knowing that seafarers – our newly-recognised "key workers" – depend on the Union I lead to progress the issues important to them, support them in their working lives and to care for them in retirement.'

As the head of the organisation, Mark is highly aware that 'the buck stops with him', so it's important to make time to clear his head away from work. 'I make no secret of my interest in motorcycles,' he smiles, 'and my main hobby is supporting my son's motorcycle racing. My daughter is determined to be a marine biologist, and I am supporting that ambition too. I hope to join her on some scuba dives once the lockdown and travel restrictions are eased.

'Apart from that, long walks in Epping Forest with my wife Keiko and our Parsons Russell Terrier Billy are important for my sanity and wellbeing. When we're able to travel again, Keiko and I would love to go back to Pulau Tioman in Malaysia, which is where we met 31 years ago. But for now I am using the lockdown to relearn to play the bugle... which is hard because every time I play it Billy attacks me.'


Mark Dickinson comes from a seafaring family and sent to sea himself at 16. He is passionate about seafarers rights and believes international solidarity is a key to achieving change. Mark took part in motorcycle races in the past and now supports his son's racing.


Become a Nautilus member today