Nautilus International has welcomed UK ministerial support for its request for a further six-month extension of SMarT funding for maritime trainees during the Covid-19 crisis.
New maritime minister Robert Courts MP indicated his support in recent correspondence with the Union, the UK Chamber of Shipping and the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB).
This follows an earlier decision to extend SMarT Plus funding for an extra six months, on top of the original 150-week allocation, to support cadets in completing the necessary requirements for their maritime qualifications.
In November the three maritime bodies, including the Union, wrote to the Mr Courts welcoming the initial extensions from government, but said the Union foresaw a need for a further six months extension to the scheme to mitigate against young cadets in training being unable to complete their sea time due to travel restrictions enforced nationally and internationally.
They also outlined the Union's concern about the long-term negative impact of the pandemic on training and education for cadets.
In his reply on 1 December Mr Courts emphasised his support for cadets facing challenges, and while not committing directly to the new request, he indicated the MCA was reviewing the data.
'The importance of the role of future seafarers should never be underestimated. I am pleased that the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) has worked closely with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) in implementing initiatives that have gone some way to assisting these cadets,' he wrote.
Mr Courts said he understood the MCA is 'liaising with the MNTB and training providers to collect the necessary data to understand the number of cadets who have been affected and requires funding beyond the current extension. This will allow the MCA to make an informed decision regarding the amount of funding required.'
The Union and the maritime bodies have provided an estimate for the cost of a further six-month extension for all SMarT-funded cadets in training. Their proposals would also support sponsoring companies financially by ensuring that their cadets are able to complete the required training and continue to receive their training allowance, should any extension up to 12 months beyond the original 150 weeks be required.
'This proposed course of action is similar to our original proposal in that the additional funds requested would be affordable within the existing SMarT Plus budget, as it is understood that this is not being fully utilised by SMarT Training Providers,' they said in the letter also signed by Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson.
'The reality is that we will see a large number of cadets being "let go" due to the costs associated with any required extension beyond the planned 36 months training programme. To avoid any possibility of this scenario being considered by shipping companies, we propose that the Government extend SMarT funding for a further six months.'