Trainee seafarers on SA Agulhas arrive in Port Louis

Trainee seafarers with Captain Merwyn Pieters just before departing from Cape Town.

A group of 20 young trainee seafarers on board South Africa’s dedicated training vessel the SA Agulhas I are experiencing working in a foreign port for the first time this week with the arrival of the vessel in Port Louis, Mauritius, where it will be joined by a team of Indian scientists.

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

The vessel will spend time on the 68th parallel, which marks the start of the permanent ice cap.

“This is the second year that it 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.

During the voyage the cadets will have a combination of on-board lectures and gain experience working on watches and assisting the crew.

They will also be able to watch the Indian scientists, who are studying currents and weather patterns, in action.

They are expected to reach Antarctica in around three weeks. The cadets, aged from 20-27, are studying at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Durban University of Technology.

Among the eight women and 12 men are 19 deck cadets and one engine cadet,

Training will be 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,” said 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.

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