Training Bahamian students at the Holland College Marine Training Center in Summerside, Prince Edward Island has fostered a partnership that will result in long-term benefits for the marine world.

With the Bahamas having the third-largest ship registry in the world, getting PEI maritime trainers involved meant an island-to-island transition for students barley out of high school.

 The Holland College Marine Training Center has worked with students from the Bahamas for the past four years. In that time, the college has trained 50 students, most of these just being teenagers. This past summer was no exception when 19 students from the Bahamas came to the college to take the entry-level course for merchant mariners, the Bridge Watching Rating Course.

Capt. Denise Mar, who owns a crewing agency called SeaMar Canada, was doing some work in the Caribbean. Thus began this ongoing relationship between PEI and the Bahamas.

Despite the large ship registry, very few Bahamians work in the shipping industry. Dudley Martinborough, director of the Bahamas Maritime Authority, had started an after-school program in the Bahamas to prepare students for the maritime industry, according to said Steve MacFarlane, manager of the Holland College Marine Training Center. “However, the Bahamas does not have recognition in the marine industry, world-wide, and that’s where our college comes in. Our training is recognized world-wide and when students leave here they have been recognized by Transport Canada and the Bahamian Maritime Authority issues a certification on behalf of their own government.”

MacFarlane said that when the Bahamian students complete the four-month course in Summerside they then do a couple of months of on-the-job training on a ship. “They need six months total in sea time,” to get their certification to work in the marine industry, he said. This six months’ training for these students gets them their Bridge Watch and/or Engine Room rating. They are then able to work on vessels registered in the Bahamas.

The two instructors at the center in Summerside, Dave Gilliland and Stewart MacDonald both agree the students are eager to learn when they arrive in Summerside. “It’s a bit of a change for them to acclimatize themselves, but teaching them is the same as teaching any group,” said Stewart MacDonald.

Gilliland agrees as he talks about his role in teaching everything to do with main propulsion of the ship.

 “There is a lot of hands-on training as well as a lot of book work and paper work,” said MacDonald. One area that students relish over bookwork and paper work is the marine simulator at the college that replicates a ship’s bridge, including all modern navigation and radar equipment. “In the real world [of the marine industry] you have to do things with your hands, so we focus a lot on safety on board the vessel. In fact, safety is the key thing shipping companies are looking for,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald said that when these students are licensed bridge watchmen, they stand part of a navigational watch as well as perform wheel duties.”

This part of the training is best learned with the simulator. The college also has engine room and cargo handling simulators. “It is all computer-based and the integration level of ours is probably the best in the country,” MacDonald said.

Students immediately take to it like ducks to water and it’s this type of simulator training, digitized to be an exact replica of the real thing that, for these students doesn’t get any better.

But it’s what these students do once they are back in the Bahamas that is crucial to a long-term career in the shipping industry. Mike O’Grady, vice president of Innovation, Enterprise and Strategic Development at Holland College and also responsible for International Affairs, talked about what some students are currently working on.

“Many of them are working with the Bahamas ferries and some are working on Bahamas mail boats, which also carry significant cargo between and among the Bahamian Island,” said O’Grady.

He pointed out that while these students may be content to be deck hands and engine room assistants, others are traversing the world on internationally registered ships run by Dockendale Shipping Company Ltd., of the Bahamas, which operates 30 vessels, or Teekay Corporation of Vancouver, B.C., which operates 180 vessels ranging from cargo ships, LNG and LPG carriers to shuttle tankers, which transport oil from off-shore fields to mainland oil terminals. “They would be working as deck hands and engine room assistants and are sailing the world,” says O’Grady.

O’Grady said there is a good chance that some of these students who graduated three or four years ago will be cycling back to the college to continue training. “Once they have dome a designated three years sea time they will be looking at moving up, so will require more training,” said O’Grady. If they choose to get their mates ticket or even an unlimited Masters Ticket or Chief Engineer, it could take from eight to 10 years. “There is many opportunities for ship board work for our graduates,” said O’Grady