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The life of seafarers

Mark Titus
Career Writer

With an ever-increasing pool of jobless undergraduates pouring out from local universities, 19-year-old Jamie Holness did not want to leave his future up to chance.

So, after graduating from Munroe College, instead of following the trend and pursuing a traditional university degree, he enrolled at the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI).

The St Elizabeth native had decided he wanted to be a seafarer.

"Originally, I had plans to be an engineer, to work in the bauxite industry," he told Sunday Business.

"But when I saw what was happening on the job market, and having looked at the career - and knowing that it is a marketable career - with my love for the sea, this was a no-brainer."

three-year programme

Now in his second year of the three-year programme, Holness is waiting to join a vessel in Europe for the entire semester.

He will then return to the CMI for final-year training as officer in charge of navigational watch. on completion, he will be able to acquire a license to become a third officer.

A third officer, or third mate, is the first stepping stone to becoming a licensed officer.

The responsibilities of a third mate are to stand bridge watch and pilot the vessel to and from harbours or job sites, using all navigational means.

A third mate also leads a bridge team, if applicable, and reports directly to the captain or master on the bridge. 'Conning', or ship-handling duties, are also the third mate's responsibilities.

Other responsibilities include docking and undocking, managing a mooring station, bow or stern, supervising the deck, conducting inspections on all ship emergency safety equipment, including, for firefighting, damage control, flooding, lifeboats and rafts.

The salary range, like all the other shipboard jobs, can differ from ship to ship.

With an estimated shortage of about 80,000 professionals in the marine industry globally, and with the concept of multi-modal transportation gaining traction internationally, the CMI, while maintaining its focus on training seafarers, has now integrated land, air and rail into its training curriculum.

A major basis for this decision was the fact that Jamaica is favourably positioned within both the established air and sea lanes of the world.

"We go beyond the bounds of the traditional shipping, the ports and the agencies," said deputy executive director Vivette Grant.

"We have students from Wray and Nephew, Wisynco, D&G, GraceKennedy, major warehousing, and all those outfits that link with international trade."

The institute was established in 1980, then to train Jamaicans to fill positions on a fleet of ships owned by the defunct Jamaica Merchant Marines.

It began as the Jamaica Maritime Training Institute, but was renamed in 2002.

After a successful four years, tuition was expanded to include other countries in the region, providing land-based training for individuals working in the allied industries, such as the Port Authority of Jamaica, The Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA) and Kingston Wharves.

A survey conducted by the CSA in 1994 found that workers in the industry were not sufficiently trained, Grant recalls.

"The study revealed that there was a need to close the training gap, to provide training, to certify persons who were within the shipping industry," she told Sunday Business.

"In those days, most marine businesses were family operated and would eventually be passed on to the younger generation to carry on the business."

three schools

The CMI sought to change that, offering professional training to persons in the land-based industry that same year, followed by the introduction of a diploma in international shipping and logistics.

In 1996, the CMI added a new dimension - a distance-learning programme extended to eastern Caribbean residents, courtesy of the University of the West Indies.

By 2002, the school was officially renamed the Caribbean Maritime Institute to reflect its regional scope.

Today, the CMI, located on the Palisadoes Peninsula in Kingston, is divided into three schools: academics - which offers diploma, associate and master of science degree programmes; professional - for the training of professional seafarers to officer class; and several short or customised courses, such as firefighting and basic safety training for the vocational school.

The institute has students from as far as Peru and Turkey.

"The professional seafaring programme involves competency-based training. this means that people not only have to be cognitive, but being psycho-motive is also necessary," says Pinnock.

In the first year, trainee seafarers do the basic theory. their second year attracts no tuition fee. instead, they are placed on a marine vessel and paid a stipend of up to US$1,500.

paramilitary component

They then return to the institute for the third year of instruction, after which they can apply to the maritime authority to become a Class 3 officer.

Training at the CMI is funded partly through government subventions and student's fees, but life at the CMI is not like any other tertiary institution. There is a mandatory paramilitary component, and all students are required to wear a uniform.

Acts, such as malicious destruction of property, theft, fighting, the use or trade of illicit drugs, and a third breach of the dress code attract instant dismissal.

Students improperly attired are barred from entering the campus.

"At the end, no matter if they had the relevant subjects, if they cannot pass this, they cannot be a part of the programme," said Pinnock.

"We are looking for team players, for people who can follow orders, for people with the right attitude."

The director said that in some cases, students had the knowledge but a poor attitude. the mandatory paramilitary programme is designed to correct that.

"This is one of the components that is missing from our education system," she said.

"We have somebody that is very bright, but they have no discipline. before we bring them into these streams, they have to learn to follow orders."

Applicants to the CMI must have a minimum of five CXC subjects for any of the officer programmes, including physics, chemistry and an engineering subject.

Currently, there are 750 students enrolled, and a staff complement of 100.

The director is hoping to increase the student base to 1,000 for the 2009-2010 school year.

The marine school will also be offering a distance-education programme through a new arm of the institute called the CMI International, which will target students from Asian countries. Its partner in this venture is Jupiter Innovation, a leading online training technology company in Southeast Asia.

The company has begun to fulfil its part of an arrangement to provide all the equipment and expertise required in return for a percentage of the fees on a per-student basis.

Jupiter has already provided 140 computers and other equipment to the CMI.


Regionally, the CMI is also the leader in simulator training offered for all modes of transportation, with clients from all over the world utilising the service.

The school now has seven simulators, valued at US$2 million each, acquired through sponsorship and European Union funding.

Another eight are to be purchased.

In 2010, the CMI will launch a new bachelor's degree programme to license customs brokers.

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