ROCKLAND, Maine — A regional technical high school is pressing full steam ahead to get its marine trades programs under way in both the day school and in the adult education classes during evenings and Saturdays.
Altogether seven adult men of all ages attended a meeting at the Mid-Coast School of Technology Adult Education on Wednesday to learn about enrollment in three maritime training courses pending in November.
An additional applicant already had taken out papers before the meeting, said Marianne Doyle, adult education director.
“This is the only marine training program in adult education in Maine,” Doyle said. “There is another on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.”
The courses are designed to help young people and adults have U.S. Merchant Marine careers by receiving certification to work on commercial vessels.
The idea for the program started five years ago when merchant seamen in Maine began to notice a dearth of trained youths certified to work on vessels. The mariners initiated proposals for U.S Coast Guard-approved programs in the schools.
“Maine seamen have a good reputation all over the world for their work ethic,” said Thomaston resident and Merchant Marine officer Mike Flanagan, one of the original advocates for the training.
“The median age of merchant seaman was hovering around 55 and 56 years old,” said Camden resident Hugh Curran, instructor at the Mid-Coast School of Technology. “It doesn’t take a graduate mathematician to deduce that in about five or six years there’s going to be a critical shortage of merchant mariners.
“Merchant mariners can’t be hired off the street,” Curran added, “especially now with the automation and mechanization on ships.”
Curran, 72, is a retired U.S. Navy commander and Merchant Marine chief engineer with more than 50 years of sea duty in both branches of the service. He has written the textbook for the Qualified Member Engineering Department course being considered for approval by the U.S. Coast Guard. When combined with able seaman and master mate courses, the QMED course will increase opportunities in engineering for a prospective student, Curran said.
“Almost every job on a ship, with the exception of a few entry-level jobs, is a skilled rating,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “People are either certified or licensed by the Coast Guard.”
In addition, the United States is signatory to an international maritime treaty setting standards for safety and training supervised by an organization under the United Nations, he said. The program is based in London.
“The aim here is to have the training, the equipment, the motivation of all mariners, regardless of what nation they come from, to be trained at the same level,” he said, adding that the Coast Guard is an agent for the international maritime organization for safety and training.
In 1985, certification standards came about to be the same on all merchant ships in the world, said Lindsey Pinkham, lead instructor with Downeast Maritime, which partners in training with Mid-Coast School for Coast Guard training. Downeast Maritime, which has been around for 17 years, also partners in training with Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, said Pinkham.
A graduate of Maine Maritime, Pinkham said she found a “sympathetic ear” with new Mid-Coast School director Elizabeth Fisher, a former licensed engineer with 15 years of service in the Merchant Marine, in setting up the local courses. Fisher joined the Mid-Coast School administration in July 2008.
Anyone serving on a Merchant Marine vessel must be documented through the Coast Guard, Pinkham said. The documentation has a number of criteria, including drug-screen testing, fingerprinting and other background testing.
Mid-Coast School and Downeast Maritime enrolled 26 students in able body seaman, 100-ton master-mate and basic safety training courses earlier this year. Over the summer, Downeast Maritime enrolled 15 and ran a second basic safety training program in Boothbay, based on increased enrollments in the midcoast region.
The school serves students from Lincolnville to Damariscotta, including the three offshore islands of Islesboro, Vinalhaven and North Haven, said Doyle. New mariner certification courses are slated to begin in November. The able seaman course and 100-ton master or mate course for licensing each meet for 147 hours. Basic safety training is a 40-hour course.
Anyone interested may call Mid-Coast School of Technology Adult Education at 596-7752, or e-mail email@example.com
George Chappell may be reached at 236-4598 or firstname.lastname@example.org.