Technology and recruitment drive the need for training

Crowley’s Pacific Reliance entered service in 2006 as part of a trend to ATBs.

Maritime training facilities are responding to the industry’s growing need to recruit and retain skilled personnel with an ever-widening array of courses and programs.

As the technology of marine transportation becomes more specialized, training facilities and academies are offering programs tailored to everything from working with LNG cargo to operating dynamic positioning systems.
Skills specific to shoreside operations are also being taught. These include cargo-handling operations, port security and financial and human resource management.

Crowley is sending crews for training to schools like Pacific Maritime Institute in Seattle. The PMI simulator shown can create a 300-degree horizontal view with the same vertical view angle you would expect on a tug.

Training in general towing practice as well as in articulated tug barge operations is also gaining in popularity as many single-hull petroleum carriers are phased out in accordance with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which sets a schedule for the retirement of single-hull tankers and barges.

Crowley Maritime Corp. is responding to industry demand by acquiring articulated tug-barges, while moving away from traditional towing vessels and tankers. That means the company has to train its crews in ATB operations.
Don Sherwood, Crowley’s manager for marine operations, petroleum service, is responsible for much of Crowley’s in-house, hands-on ATB training. Sherwood, a 30-year veteran tanker captain, said that the bulk of his trainees come from the traditional tug and towing industry and the maritime academies.
“As ships are OPA’d out ATBs are replacing them,†he said. Crowley currently operates eight ATBs with six new barges to be built. The switch to ATBs is largely driven by the fact that they require smaller crews (23 on a tanker crew versus 13 to 14 on an ATB), save time and fuel, are far more maneuverable than ships and are safer to operate in difficult waters.
Crowley conducts its simulator training at Seafarers International Union’s school in Piney Point, Md., and at the Pacific Maritime Institute in Seattle.
Susan Michel, Crowley’s director of people development, said that about 600 crew per year go through Crowley’s training programs encompassing a variety of disciplines in addition to the ATB training.
The need for training in dynamic positioning (DP) and high precision acoustic positioning (HIPAP) is also receiving attention from maritime educators. Most of the demand is coming from the oil and gas industry, but there is also interest from the cruise industry as more cruise ships visit environmentally sensitive locations where anchoring is difficult or impossible.
Capt. Barry MacDonald, a DP/HIPAP instructor at Holland College in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, said that DP skills lead to high-paying jobs in the maritime industry. His school trains mariners from all over the world. While some students come through the college as cadets, most come directly from the industry for their introductory and advanced training.
The school has a Kongsberg Polaris (full mission), DNV Class A-compliant ship’s bridge simulator with an integrated full-function Kongsberg Simrad Dual Redundant Dynamic Positioning System.
The fast-growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry has created additional needs for specialized training. LNG vessels are built and new unloading facilities are coming online, and both need qualified staff with specialized skills.
The importance of LNG training was highlighted last fall when the Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust donated $375,000 to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, a portion of which would go to underwriting LNG simulator training at the academy.
The RTM STAR Center in Dania, Fla., a primary training center for the American Maritime Officers union, is meeting that need with two linkable full-mission bridge simulators.
According to Graeme Holman, head of operations for the school, a number of LNG operators, including Teekay Corp., have used STAR for training. Holman explained that by linking their two bridge simulators, one a tanker bridge and one a tug bridge, operators could simulate close-quarters situations better than ever. The bridge simulation can involve as many as three tugs, the minimum number required by the U.S. Coast Guard for LNG operations.
There is also a growing need to simulate LNG cargo handling for both shipboard and shore-based personnel. Cargo-handling simulators based on actual ships are used at the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, SUNY Maritime College, and others. Students learn to load, discharge, ballast the ship and safely care for the refrigerated cargo en route.
Online or distance learning is beginning to find its way into maritime training. This type of training is best suited to subjects where no practical demonstration of skills is necessary. The Calhoon MEBA Engineering School in Easton, Md., the primary training facility for the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, has just announced Coast Guard approval for its online STCW course in crowd management. This is the first true distance-learning course to be offered to mariners, according to Anne Higgins, Calhoon’s spokeswoman.
Chuck Eser, the school’s academic manager, said that the course was developed to meet the needs of students who cannot easily get to the school to attend the class.
Eser said that the crowd management course is aimed at the cruise-ship industry where “everyone down to the dishwasher must take it.â€
Calhoon’s course is presented via an animated presentation at a scheduled time. It is not streamed in real time. Following the presentation, the instructor is available online to take questions. Students who miss the scheduled session can log in anytime to view or review the lesson and leave questions for the instructor. The students are also provided with links to relevant background material. At the end of the course, proctored tests are administered at third-party testing facilities.
Eser said that the school is working on getting Coast Guard approval for an online crisis management course that would be offered to deck officers. He feels that there are many more subject areas on the horizon that might lend themselves to distance learning and that the only limitation is the present technology. In the future, improved graphics and interactivity will expand the types of subjects taught online.
As an example of what might be possible, he described the potential for instructing mariners about the functionality of a piece of equipment (“Knowing Where the Knobs Are — Knobologyâ€) and being able to interactively simulate it before they actually operate it in the field. He also noted that distance learning has an economic advantage over bricks-and-mortar learning.
Other training facilities like the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point are also exploring the possibilities of distance learning. Martin Skrocki, the academy’s public information officer said that certain parts of the school’s master’s degree program in marine engineering would be available to students online.
Apprenticeship is also playing a role in maritime training. On the West Coast, Pacific Maritime Institute operates the Workboat Academy, a two-year vocational program leading to a third mate’s license for a tug or supply vessel. Many students come to the program hoping to train for a second career. Companies like Rigdon Marine, Penn Maritime, Brusco Tug & Barge, Foss and Crowley have all drawn cadets from the Workboat Academy to staff their vessels as apprentices.
Some companies look to equipment suppliers to provide essential training for today’s complex systems. David Darling, director of human resources for Rigdon Marine, said his company is sending its engineers to train with Cummins on their diesel-electric power plants.

“Our boats are all Cummins diesel-electric, and it makes more sense to train our engineers on the actual equipment that they will be working on rather than opt for generic training.†he said.

Darling said that Rigdon spends an annual average of $6,000 per person on training. Between January and March 2008, he said that the company spent about $80,000 on training. With the cost of outside training approaching $700,000 per year, his company is beginning to think about developing its own in-house training facility, he said.

By Professional Mariner Staff