A fisherman cleans his boat in Maputo, Mozambique. Picture: REUTERS/Grant Lee Neuenburg
A fisherman cleans his boat in Maputo, Mozambique. Picture: REUTERS/Grant Lee Neuenburg

When the SA Agulhas, an ice-strengthened training ship and former polar research vessel, reaches Cape Town on Thursday‚ it won’t just bring with it a welter of fresh data on the Agulhas current and its role in climate change. It will also bring 20 trainees who are the guinea pigs in a new project aimed at growing the pool of qualified South African seafarers.

The deck and engine rating trainees boarded the ship of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) in Port Elizabeth two weeks ago‚ and have been gaining practical sea-time towards their international seafaring qualifications.

All the trainees are school-leavers with no formal maritime education‚ and are among a group of 45 in a pilot project put together by the South African International Maritime Institute and funded by the Transport Education Training Authority (Teta).

Samsa chief operating officer Sobantu Tilayi said: "As part of our commitment to address the high unemployment rate‚ this rating training provides a wider scope of maritime training and skills development.

"It addresses the gap for career opportunities. Young people would be able to find jobs in areas such as maintenance of the vessels‚ its equipment and gear‚ in rigging and deploying equipment‚ and handling and securing cargo."

The trainees will now join Marine Crew Services‚ a partner in the project‚ which will place them in fleets it manages. With further training‚ they will reach Able Seafarer level and eventually be awarded a certificate of proficiency.

During the voyage, which ends on Thursday‚ the SA Agulhas was on charter to the South African Environmental Observation Network to retrieve data from a number of scientific buoys deployed in coastal waters to monitor the Agulhas current.

Maritime institute CEO Malek Pourzanjani said the training project was a good example of strong partnerships between public-and private-sector organisations and training providers. "Special mention should be made of Teta as the funder and Samsa as the owner of the vessel for providing this valuable opportunity for the trainees to gain sea time."

Said the training authority’s maritime specialist‚ Malcolm Alexander: "The project expands Teta’s involvement in maritime sector education and training at a practical skill level and is a positive for the maritime sector and oceans economy growth."

The next phase of the project will entail building capacity at Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to offer the training.