SOUTH Africa’s first dedicated training vessel, the SA Agulhas I, docked in Port Elizabeth today after a three-month voyage which took 30 sea-farer cadets to Antarctica and back.
The Agulhas I was acquired by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) for training in support of the National Cadet Programme, which is being managed by the Port Elizabeth-based South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI).
The training is being funded by the National Skills Fund.
The vessel sailed on 14 December 2016 from Cape Town with 30 cadets from the South African Maritime Training Academy (SAMTRA) and Marine Crew Services (MCS).
The group of seven engineering cadets, 23 deck cadets and two training officers joined the South African crew on a research voyage chartered by India’s National Centre for Antarctic Research.
Her first port of call was Port Louis in Mauritius on Christmas Eve where she took on board the team of Indian scientists and five container loads of equipment.
The ship sailed south from Mauritius before heading West of Kerguelen Island and on to Antarctica and back to Mauritius carrying out operations at various scientific stations along the way.
“The fact that the Indian government was willing to entrust leading scientists and important multi-disciplinary scientific research to a South African training vessel crewed by South Africans is a tribute to the quality of our mariners and the training offered in South Africa,” says Prof Malek Pourzanjani, SAIMI chief executive officer.
“The three-month cruise took the vessel and the cadets all the way down to 68 degrees south where they encountered severe weather. Both the vessel and the cadets passed with flying colours,” said Sobantu Tilayi, acting chief executive officer of SAMSA.
According to Tilayi the SA Agulhas I had been chartered for three years by the Indian government for an annual scientific expedition to Antarctica.
“South Africa needs more world class maritime expertise at all levels,” said Phyllis Difeto, chief operations officer of the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA).
Ongoing collaboration between TNPA, SAMSA, SAIMI and the private sector is needed to ensure that South African mariners receive world class training, and are sought after around the globe, she added.
“The cadets have had the opportunity to observe some of the experiments and see what the equipment looks like and how it is deployed,” said senior training officer Merwyn Pieters.
One of the experiments required the laying of a 4 700 metre mooring cable at a depth of five kilometres on the 40 degrees south latitude. The main buoy is fitted with a current metre and lies 300 metres below the surface.
More than 350 cadets have been trained aboard the SA Agulhas I since 2012 when SAMSA acquired the vessel from the Department of Environmental Affairs and re-purposed the former Antarctic research and supply vessel as a training vessel to support the National Cadet Programme.
The cadet programme enables aspiring sea-farers to obtain the practical sea-time experience required to attain a Certificate of Competency (COC) as either a Deck Officer or Marine Engineering Officer. The COC is an internationally recognised qualification, issued by SAMSA in accordance with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Convention on the Standards, Training and Certification of Watch-keepers (STCW), and opens up a global sea-faring career for these young South Africans.
The programme is a skills development initiative linked to Operation Phakisa which aims to grow South Africa’s participation in the maritime economy. The initiative is managed by SAIMI and financed by the National Skills Fund.
The engineering cadets did watches under the engineer on watch where they assisted with the routine work carried out by the engineer.
The cadets were rotated to get exposure to all sections of the engineering department including the electronics.
The deck cadets rotated amongst bridge watch keeping, deck maintenance / ships husbandry, seamanship classes and navigation classes.
A bonus for the cadets was that the doctor on board volunteered to train them on the medical equipment and medicines kept in the ships’ hospital.