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Education and training

What is industry doing about new fuels training?

25 April 2024

Shipping companies are moving to adopt new fuels before training standards can be set by the maritime authorities – which means that courses are being developed in response to demands from industry rather than regulators. Sarah Robinson looks at some examples of this

National and international anti-pollution regulations are driving radical changes to vessels. These changes are already being seen in sensitive areas such as the Norwegian fjords, and all of the world's merchant vessels will eventually have to adopt new fuels in order to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. However, traditional seafarer training does not necessarily equip crew members to operate new fuel technology.

Even junior officers fresh out of college may not be familiar with new tech, as the anticipated STCW syllabus updates will take years to percolate through to maritime colleges. It may also prove impossible to provide Officer of the Watch training that covers the full gamut of fuel tech options, and the industry will therefore have to accept a new world of ship-specific training, akin to what happens in aviation.

What are employers doing about new fuels training?

A central principle of the Just Transition is that seafarer training in new fuels must be provided at no cost to the individual. Some employers are already aware that it is their responsibility to provide the training their employees need for new build and retrofitted vessels, and there are some encouraging examples of good practice at companies where Nautilus members work.

'Stena Line have for the past number of years ensured that all their new builds use liquefied natural gas (LNG), and Caledonian MacBrayne's new ferries are also going to be LNG,' says Nautilus head of industrial Micky Smyth. 'The two companies have collaborated on a training scheme where CalMac officers can sail on Stena's LNG vessels so that they can attain the required skills whilst the vessels are at sea, and very importantly whilst the vessels are bunkering.'

The Union will be watching closely as CalMac develops its proposal for smaller vessels to go electric, and Nautilus will be pressing for a similar commitment to crew training for battery-powered ferries.

What are colleges doing about new fuels training?

Many maritime colleges are also aiming to stay in the vanguard of new fuels training, responding to industry demand rather than waiting for the STCW updates.

South Shields Marine School (Tyne Coast College) is one such college. 'I am hoping to have our first future fuel courses available for delivery from September,' says marine engineering curriculum manager James Tagg. 'I am working with industry to identify requirements from which I will be developing future fuel courses. My main focus is LNG, but I am also developing material for hybrid and methanol vessels. We are also actively developing our cadet material to include information on future technologies.'

Another college developing new fuels training is STC in Rotterdam. 'We set up a development project on LNG with the industry almost 10 years ago and developed a course and even an LNG cargo simulator,' says lecturer Alco Weeke. 'There have been many discussions with the industry about this project's learning goals and objectives, resulting in the two courses we currently run. We are also considering developing a course on methanol in response to industry demand.'

What are industry bodies doing about new fuels training?

As part of its commitment to professional development, the industry body Nautical Institute is developing a generic industry familiarisation course on alternative fuels. The intention is to deliver the course online over a two-day period. The content will cover methanol, ammonia and hydrogen fuels including specific properties, safety and health hazards.

The course is primarily aimed at those involved in the broader maritime industry who require to have knowledge of these novel fuels, rather than seafarers.

Meanwhile, the International Transport Workers' Federation is working with partners such as World Maritime University on a project to help nautical colleges create courses to ensure seafarers have the skills to work in a safe environment with new technologies and fuels.

Announced in 2023 at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, the project will start with a gap analysis to find where institutions are not currently offering the appropriate training. Based on this, a baseline training framework in decarbonisation will be created for seafarers and officers, and an instructor handbook for maritime training institutions. The timeline is to develop the training materials by mid-2025 so that they can be trialled to establish best practice before the training is rolled out elsewhere.

In Europe, the maritime education and training network MET-NET is teaming up with the European Transport Workers' Federation and European Community Shipowners' Associations to establish a European Maritime Skills Forum (E-MSF) on new fuels. E-MSF will discuss learning objectives and outcomes to give a steer on developing training to meet seafarers' needs. Establishing MET-NET and E-MSF were recommendations of the SkillSea project, which has previously been covered in detail by the Nautilus Telegraph.


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