June 02, 2020

Internship Boosts Career at Sea

Internship boosts career at sea - AN office job might not sound like ideal preparation for a career on the maritime highways of global trade, but for 23-year-old Thobani Sithole, an administration internship with the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) has made him a “more well-rounded” seafarer.

Sithole joined the brand-new Dietrich Oldendorff bulk carrier in Japan last week (1 March 2020) as a junior navigational officer – a long way from his upbringing in Msinga, deep in rural KwaZulu-Natal. 

He has packed a lot into the few years since matric: graduating cum laude last year from Durban University of Technology with a National Diploma in Maritime Studies and the Dean’s Merit Award; and at the same time completing his practical sea-time training in the National Cadet Programme (NCP) managed by SAIMI, which saw him experiencing voyages to Antarctica on the training vessel SA Agulhas, and across Asia, Australia and Europe on bulk carrriers.

After completing the NCP in 2018, he joined SAIMI for a year’s internship at their offices in Port Elizabeth to assist with administration of the programme and acting as an all-important link between cadets and the institute. While working for SAIMI, he was also selected to travel in a South African delegation to China in October 2019 for a seminar on marine economic development at the Fujian Institute of Oceanography in Xiamen, an annual event under a bilateral agreement with China to support growth of SA’s oceans economy. 

“If I hadn’t taken the job at SAIMI as part of my training, I would be lacking in the important element of being able to work with people from diverse walks of life and having professional administration and IT skills that were not taught in our studies. 

“The experience gained has opened my eyes to the bigger picture of how the maritime industry operates and I believe has made me a more well-rounded officer, able to handle both the physical and the paperwork side of the job,” Sithole said.

Excited to be returning to sea – a career he dreamed of growing up – he said he was especially proud to have been employed by Oldendorff, one of the world’s largest dry bulk carriers, as he had done his cadetship with the company. Sithole said the first highlight of his new job would be witnessing the rare event of four new vessels being christened simultaneously in March, at Oshima shipyards in Japan where his new vessel, the 100,000 tdw (ton deadweight) Dietrich Oldendorff, has been built along with four others joining the Oldendorff fleet. (Note – the fifth is to be christened later.)

“This is what I dreamed of, what I studied and trained for. And the time at SAIMI has been invaluable in preparing me and really played a positive role in my life,” Sithole said.

While at SAIMI, he gained experience in organising meetings, taking minutes, writing reports, situational analysis and problem-solving, interacting with the public and with cadets – all of which will stand him in good stead in a junior officer’s job, SAIMI NCP Manager Ian Hlongwane said.

Hlongwane said the cadet programme administrator’s job was intended to be a short-term position, allowing former cadets to gain experience before resuming careers at sea.

“It is a bitter-sweet farewell, because Thobani added great value to our cadet programme. Giving the cadets a peer to interact with who understands their experiences in training at sea has brought stability and better communication into the programme. But we are very pleased for him to have obtained a junior officer’s position, and that our plan to develop people from within SAIMI has borne fruit,” Hlongwane said.

The National Cadet Programme is run by SAIMI to enable maritime students to obtain the practical training on merchant vessels needed to obtain the internationally recognised STCW certificate of competency for work at sea. The programme had more than 300 seafarers in training in 2019, partnering with shipping companies such as Oldendorff who provide the training berths enabling cadets to complete their sea-time and qualify as junior officers.

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