Anchoring awareness of careers: Duo give insights into maritime work as opportunities are flagged up

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 27 Jun 2018

SOUTH Bank voices are behind a campaign to raise interest and highlight the maritime industry’s opportunities.

Amanda Viljoen, whose last job as a seafarer was as a captain of a ship hunting for diamonds in the Arctic, and tug master Gary Barlow, are prominent participants in Seafarers Awareness Week, taking place this week.

With the Humber home to the UK’s biggest port, Immingham is alone is responsible for one tenth of the cargo handled by the whole of the UK, the role played and the size of the £47 billion industry clear to many.

Now the message is being pushed further, with the regional business and economic contribution of an industry that is largely out of sight and out of mind in today’s world demonstrated.

Introducing the pair’s stories, Commodore Barry Bryant, pictured right, director general of Seafarers UK, the charity which organises Seafarers Awareness Week, said: “In the ‘olden days’ ships were smaller and automation had yet to happen. Ships berthed in city centre harbours and the comings and goings of seaborne trade were highly visible. Today, ports are highly automated, cargo ships get bigger every year, using the latest technology and subject to intense security – and seafaring is a very different career.

“But as an island nation with a long and proud maritime history, we are ideally placed to make the most of the forecast growth predicted across the industry in many sectors. The UK has unrivalled expertise, a highly skilled workforce and many exceptional organisations and businesses contributing to the flow of global seaborne trade that few of us fully appreciate.”

While Grimsby enjoys high visibility with car carriers in Alexandra Dock, and their cargoes parked alongside the A180, Port of Immingham is a town within itself, with three of the largest cargoes, oil, coal and biomass, not seen by the naked eye.

Cmdr Bryant added: “The global ocean economy is expected to double in size to $3 trillion over the next 12 years, and for an island nation with a long maritime history, that means exciting opportunities for young people across the UK.

“There’s so much more to maritime than most people realise. Every year 95 per cent of the UK’s imports and exports – that’s much of the food in our shops and our fuel – arrive by ship. Our fishing fleet is the second largest in Europe, and 27.2 million people will take a cruise this year!

Read more: 'Being at sea can be stressful and lonely - that's why we want to do more to protect the mental health of seafarers'

“The pace of technological change today is so dramatic that teachers are undoubtedly preparing children for roles that don’t exist yet. 50 years ago, the container ‘box’ was invented. It was a box that could be moved by road, train and simply loaded and unloaded off a ship like a Lego block. It revolutionised global trade. Who knows what the next 50 years holds for the industry; advanced technology, autonomy and robotics, greater care for the environment, cyber security, and marine science will certainly all be key drivers.

“But, the UK has an exceptional work force, a long maritime heritage, unrivalled expertise and an opportunity to lead the world once more. The industry genuinely needs bright enthusiastic people looking for long, varied, exciting career opportunities.”

This year, engineering is a particular focus for Seafarers Awareness Week. The Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Merchant Navy are all struggling to recruit people for engineering related roles. And with 2018 designated Year of Engineering by the UK Government, and funding has come in.

UK Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani, pictured left,  said: “Our highly skilled maritime workers, both at sea and onshore, play a crucial role in making the UK a world leader in maritime business.

“Seafarers Awareness Week shines a spotlight on the breadth of career opportunities the sector has to offer - from captains and engineers, to dockers and deep-sea divers.

“This year we have doubled the funding for Merchant Navy Officer Cadet training so that more young people can pursue exciting, rewarding careers in maritime.”

The not-for-profit industry website provides information on many of the jobs and careers available across the maritime sector.

From high seas diamond mining to helping deliver the black gold

BRITISH-born Amanda Viljoen joined the merchant navy as soon as she was old enough and went to sea as a cadet in 1994, at a time when women at sea were still quite rare.

Over the course of 14 years, she progressed, securing promotions until her last job role, which was as the captain in command of various vessels, including an arctic exploration and research vessel, prospecting the sea bed for diamond mining.

“This last role was an exciting and incredibly specialist position,” she said. “The ship itself had two helicopters on board which were flying daily. It had a dual role as a fuel ship for the people living in such isolated conditions as well discharging heavy machinery and cargo using its cranes onto the ice.”

She became so familiar with the local waters and conditions that she received pilot exemption and could navigate the vessel without calling on local expertise. 

Having met her husband, and wanting to start a family, Amanda came ashore and in 2016 she joined Associated British Ports and took on her current role, based in Immingham, managing ABP’s 70-plus apprentices, maintaining quality standards and leading four committees for the development of new industry-wide port trailblazer apprenticeships.

Read more: Treasury minister praises Grimsby and Immingham exports and pushes for free port

She said: “Our four-year apprenticeship scheme is an important part of our succession planning and a vital aspect of our long term operations. Our apprentices work alongside our operations teams, learning exactly how our ports work and what’s involved.

“We have four sea-based apprenticeships running in the Humber – with our vessel traffic services, the dock master, the pier master and our pilots apprenticeships. We also offer shore-side apprenticeships, for example with estate management team as we have a considerable land holding around our ports.”

Amanda  misses waking up with the sun rising over an uninterrupted horizon, but said: “The industry has changed a lot since I went to sea but it is still an incredible stepping stone and I would definitely recommend it. I look for sea time when I am recruiting – it stands any candidate in good stead, broadens your horizons and gives you a different insight - which is incredibly valuable. Going to sea is undeniably hard but every job has hard aspects. And girls shouldn’t be put off, it is much, much easier than it was, and slowly but surely women are breaking down the barriers.”

Another South Bank-based highly skilled maritime professional is tug captain Gary Barlow.

He has worked on the powerhouse vessels on the Humber for more than 20 years, and is master of Svitzer Valiant, helping larger vessels navigate the port, terminals and estuary itself, on a daily basis. 

Read more: Major oil tanker towage contract won by Immingham tug team

Svitzer Humber handles many of the tankers and bulk cargo vessels, working closely with local pilots and port authority ABP to ensure the safety and reliability of every ship coming in or heading out.

He started as a deck hand when he was 16, completing his able seaman ticket with a mixture of college time and sea time, he’s then worked in every role – learning as he went along and being promoted along the way. 

A former leading Cleethorpes lifeboat crewman, he describes work on the tug as intense, explaining how it is not just like being on a big ship and steaming from one place to another for 28 days. “When you are working it is full on, requiring all of your attention, professional skills, experience and expertise,” he said.

“The tugs have changed quite significantly over time. Twenty years on it is not nearly such hard manual work and the vessels and equipment are much more user friendly, but as the equipment has developed, so the number of crew has reduced.”

The tug now operates with just five crew, deck mates, engineers and master and whereas the towing gear used to be put out manually which meant dragging seriously heavy wires by hand, now it is a lot easier and safer now, and all automated.

He admits that with more automation, he’s not as fit as he was, but when it is a screaming gale he certainly does not miss the old ways! Asked if he would recommend the job to a 16 year old today, he says “definitely”, adding: “I enjoy the job as much today as I did when I first started”.

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