NELSON Mandela Metropolitan University is positioning itself as an African centre for the training of marine engineers.

According to Dr Ossie Franks, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, the Built Environment and Information Technology, a new marine engineering department will draw from the existing mechanical, electrical and mechatronics departments within NMMU.

He says the university is able to fast-track the introduction of a new course “by leveraging the strength of existing competencies and infrastructure.

“We have challenged all our departments to find ways they can adapt their programmes to ensure that our graduates are properly equipped for a maritime career,” he says.

Seed funding to establish the department has been provided by merSETA, which will invest R30m over the next three years to help establish a Bachelor of Engineering Technology in Marine Engineering degree.

NMMU is working closely with the maritime industry and Wärtsilä to ensure that it produces the skills that are needed.

According to the International Maritime Organisation, more than 1.5 million people are employed as seafarers globally. It is estimated that around 40 000 new ships officers will be needed by the industry every year from now until 2013.

The modern ship's officer needs to be far more than a navigator or an engineer, and the crewman needs to be far more than a manual labourer.

“A modern ship is a highly technical workplace operating on the tight margins of commercial viability – which means that, as well as a highly advanced technical skillset, shipboard staff now also need to be fully conversant with management and communication skills, IT knowledge, budget handling and so on,” it says.

Land-side activities such as shipbuilding, ship repair and ship recycling will also have growing requirements for manpower resources.