Trainee sea-farers on SA Agulhas heading for Antarctica


A group of 20 young trainee sea-farers on board South Africa’s dedicated training vessel the SA Agulhas I are en route to the Antarctic together with a group of Indian scientists.

The vessel, which left Cape Town early in December, took the scientists and several tons of equipment on board in Port Louis, Mauritius. For most of the cadets it was the first time they had been out of South Africa.

This is the second year that the vessel has been chartered by India’s National Centre for Antarctic Research for a multi-disciplinary scientific expedition, and this provided the added opportunity for a training voyage, said Prof Malek Pourzanjani, chief executive officer of the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI).

The vessel is under charter from its owner, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), and the cadets are placed on board and managed by SAIMI under the National Cadet Programme, Pourzanjani said.

From Mauritius they are heading south to Antarctica where they will be spending the Christmas period as part of their compulsory on-board training before they can qualify as deck and engineering officers.

Among the eight women and 12 men trainees are 19 deck cadets and one engine cadet, Training is being conducted by Captain Merwyn Pieters and Steven Paulse, who were also the training officers on the December 2016 expedition which accommodated 30 cadets.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for these young people. A training trip like this would normally cost over US$50 000, and they are being afforded this opportunity to learn under some of the most trying conditions,” says Pieters.

“It takes guts of steel to be away from your family and loved ones. For this group, this journey is new to them, and it would come with many new experiences, including building team spirit,” he added.

Their training started in Cape Town with familiarisation of the vessel and safety drills. Cadets had to learn how to don lifejackets and immersion suits. They had to practice until they could don their immersion suits within two minutes.

Immersion suits are necessary because the vessel will spend time on the 68th parallel, which marks the start of the permanent ice cap.

On-board lessons started as soon as the vessel left Cape Town. For deck cadets the topics include radar plotting, stowaway search before departure and letting go and sailing procedures.

Engine cadets attend lectures on tank sounding and ullages, the use of sounding tape and tank calibration tables, making entries into the oil record book, maintaining the sewage system and other practical topics.

Practical activities for the deck cadets include observation of the vessel crew at work, and standing watches under the supervision of the mates.

Deck cadet duties include lookout, steering, position plotting, taking bearings and determining compass errors, chart work, logbook entries, radar work, weather observations and other duties related to the keeping of a safe navigational watch as assigned to them by the Officer of the Watch.

The engine cadets carry out the work assigned to them in the engine room and in the maintenance of other technical aspects of the vessel.

Once the vessel is in position on the 68th parallel the cadets will have the opportunity to observe the scientists at work.

The cadets, aged from 20-27, are studying at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Durban University of Technology.


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Issued by Siyathetha Communications on behalf of the South African International Maritime Institute.

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