Training for merchant navy cadets returns to Liverpool
Mar 13 2008 by Mike Chapple, Liverpool Daily Post

LIVERPOOL is once more going to be the home of the merchant seafarer.

For the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, merchant navy cadet training is back here thanks to Liverpool John Moores University’s (JMU) Maritime Academy, which is aiming to make the port a centre of excellence for providing jobs in a boom industry.

“Merseyside is traditionally an area where a majority of families would have one relative or another who chose the sea and the merchant navy to live their working life – and we’re hoping that this will offer the opportunity for this to return,” said Dr Steve Bonsall, head of JMU’s Maritime and Transport programmes.

“During the 1980s and 90s, it got something of a bad press as a career option when there were lots of lay-offs and redundancies. But not any more. Around 90% of all world trade and 95% of UK goods are moved by ships and as there’s a 10% shortfall world wide in the number of skilled jobs required – something like 40,000 – it’s the perfect time to take advantage of what we have got here.”

Central to its plans is JMU’s bridge simulator with a 360-degree projection system based at its Lairdside Maritime Centre in Birkenhead.

Capable of recreating the power of 30 different vessels from small tugs to supertankers it has also been programmed to simulate the full gamut of sea and weather.

“It’s the only simulator in the country in which you can see in every direction which makes it the nearest thing to piloting a ship without actually getting on board,” explained Dr Bonsall.

The simulator will be operational at this Saturday’s JMU merchant navy careers day at the maritime centre when representatives from eight major shipping companies and the training charities the Conway Maritime Trust and the British Sailors Trust will be on hand. They will sponsor and pay for up to 50 potential candidates to take the three and four year degree courses. Those chosen will begin in the September 08 term – and it’s not just open to youngsters.

“IF YOU are prone to seasickness this machine will definitely smell you out,” said Bert Kunze, senior lecturer and business development officer at the Lairdside Maritime Centre of its amazing simulator.

Once the programme is in motion you and your stomach can be on the move too, despite the fact that physically you are rooted to the spot.

The machine can be programmed to represent anything from a warship to a tanker.

At the beginning of our trip on a 70-metre tug supply vessel the setting was a perfect recreation of a dawn sailing up the Mersey on a mellow high tide.

Off to port was the familiar scrap metal mountain near to Gladstone Dock while over to starboard we’d just passed the beach at New Brighton.

Mr Kunze, who has a Master’s ticket and spent 12 years at sea, was naturally a dab hand at the wheel. After steering us through a flotilla of warships he turned about and effortlessly reversed into the Gladstone’s lock.

Then the skipper decided to step things up a little.

He reset the simulator and the waves grew higher and higher as we returned to the river. Even those with a reliable pair of sea legs may succumb to queasiness as the inner ear tells you you’re motionless while the eyes give out an entirely different message.

If you do begin to turn green, however, there’s no shame - you’ll be in good company.

“Nelson was seasick all his life,” said “Captain” Kunze.