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Education and training

What are Nautilus members experiencing on new fuels training?

23 April 2024

Nautilus members are on the frontline of the new fuels revolution, needing training to keep their jobs as the engine types they originally learned to operate are phased out. Deborah McPherson looks at what members are reporting to the Union about their recent training experiences

Only 16% of respondents to the Nautilus Federation Mapping our Maritime Future survey have worked on a vessel powered by an alternative fuel such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), biofuels, methanol, ammonia, hydrogen, or electric – and, of these, around two-thirds have received training from their company (less than 9% of all survey respondents).

We asked those respondents with experience of new fuels to describe the level of training and support received from employers, and they had some interesting points to make.

What is training like for vessels powered by biofuels?

A marine engineering superintendent was involved in a trial of a marine biofuel called hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). In the trial, there had been no training in the current phase. The superintendent relied on the information available through contacts, the internet and whatever advice he could glean from contractors working on the proposals.

He expected to work on an HVO-powered vessel within the next two years if further trials are satisfactory, or on another trial to modify the vessel to operate in hybrid mode. He then expected future training to be offered by the main contractor.

The superintendent believes the maritime industry has been good at taking up the challenge of future fuels, but that there had been a 'very disjointed approach' among manufacturers because they offer training only for their own engines.

'There appears to be little generic training for the handling and particularly the storage of new fuels,' he said. 'The shipping companies appear reluctant to invest in training whilst there are so many disjointed options out there. They are reliant upon engine manufacturers to offer specific training for new builds/installations but there's little for retrofitting.'

The shipping companies appear reluctant to invest in training whilst there are so many disjointed options out there Marine engineering superintendent

What is training like for LNG?

One deck officer who spoke to us had received LNG training but said: 'Deck officers do not need to know about the inner workings of LNG as a fuel. Their training should be centred around the basics and firefighting.' The training also needed to recognise that 'we're using LNG as fuel, not cargo'.

A chief engineer was more satisfied with his training: 'The training I received for LNG was fairly useful and set at about the correct level. If this standard of training is used for future new fuels, then I feel it would be sufficient.' However, he cautioned that, 'in common with many industries, training is always the first stream of a project to be reduced or cut, for financial reasons, so it is imperative that the flag states mandate a minimum training standard.'

Another engineer had received some training in using LNG as a bunker fuel when working on gas tankers that were also carrying LNG as a cargo. 'The dangerous cargo endorsement course didn't really cover much about the fuel specific side of the systems,' he recalled, 'but once onboard there was plenty of informal on-the-job training.'

He continued: 'In my opinion the training [for LNG and other low-flashpoint fuels] is generic and vague. The required sea time can be served on a ship with a different type of fuel from the one you will sail on. Witnessing bunkering is problematic as most times this has been on a CCTV screen in a control room rather than actually in the bunker space. 

'Each type of fuel or alternative propulsion system has its own unique hazards and requirements, so I don't think that general training or a general certificate is a great idea. As technology is moving faster than regulations, training and course development and some sort of stopgap is needed until the development of alternative systems settles down. I imagine in the future there will be a basic general level course and then a fuel/type specific advanced course.'


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