Dan MacCarthy attends a training course at the National Maritime College of Ireland, Ringaskiddy, home to programmes which offer routes into some truly exciting career choices.
THE ‘helicopter’ plunges into the water with three Commissioner of Irish Lights employees aboard. They have seconds to escape from a watery grave before the chopper plunges to the murky depths.
A face appears at a window, then another face at a second window. Then a third. Below the surface the windows are shoved open and all three men in their yellow survival suits swim to the surface.
The training exercise at the National Maritime College of Ireland, Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, is a success for these three who are undertaking the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training & Emergency Breathing System (HUET & EBS) to allow them to travel on helicopters for the Commissioner of Irish Lights or to oil rigs to work in the oil and gas industry.
Back on ‘shore’ (the side of the pool) Ukrainian electronics engineer Alex Pereyaslavates based in Dun Laoghaire looks a relieved man.
“It’s very useful. Hopefully we’ll never have to use it in real life, but it’s better to be prepared than sorry,” he says.
However, they don’t get away that easily. SEftec NMCI Offshore training instructor Joe Morrison, calls them back again.
They need to go back into the ‘helicopter’ and this time prepare to escape from the water as the helicopter survival unit is revolved 180D. This is all about simulation and is designed to replicate real-life situations where helicopters crash. The recent fatal crash involving 13 oil rig workers off Norway has concentrated minds for this exercise.
So the chopper plunges into the water again with the men in ‘brace’ position. Rapidly it flips over, disorientating everyone. Two divers on each side of the survival unit are ready to rescue anyone in the case of a real emergency.
Faces appear at the window again, and again all three push through the windows and swim to the surface and clamber into a liferaft. [See video] Helicopters are designed to partially fill with water on impact so that they do not flip over and create an even bigger danger with fractured rotors and smashed glass and metal.
Harry Duggan is an operations officer with the Commissioner of Irish Lights and works on the Granuaile ship which services Irish lighthouses.
What does he think of the course?
“The helicopter gets launched into the pool at the NMCI and we do a number of evacuations with the windows in and the windows out and the final test is with the helicopter upside down in the water so you’re a little bit disorientated, it’s completely dark. You just follow it with all the training you’ve done and pop out the far side,” he says.
The final member Roger Valentine is an electronics engineer based at Dun Laoghaire, like the others.
“I was a slight bit nervous beforehand, apprehensive about what was going to happen, but there are very good instructors here and they brought us through everything numerous times before we did anything. I felt going down, there are some things you don’t expect even though you’ve swum before so like the water going up your nose.”
This training facility can simulate real-life conditions at sea - storm force gales and even thunder and lightning - so all scenarios are covered.
The National Maritime College was set up in 2004 and is a constituent college of the Cork Institute of Technology. It is regarded as the premier third-level maritime college in Europe. It offers degree courses in nautical science, marine engineering, and marine electrotechnology. It is Ireland’s go-to college for training in a career in commercial shipping
NMCI Services(NMCIS) is the commercial division of the college and provides expert training in the maritime industry. The college has several partnerships such as with the Port of Cork where tailor-made courses are provided for the port sector which has enhanced the reputation of the Port of Cork within the sector.
It also partners with SEFtec which is a manufacturer of the safety training simulators for the world's leading training centres.
On a tour of the facility, business development executive Garrett O’Rourke shows the ‘bridge simulation' where the conditions of any port in the world can be simulated.
This means that ship’s captains can ‘experience’ the exact conditions of the appearance of a harbour, say Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where tides, currents, the visual appearance of the port, harbours, or other shipping can all be included in a computer program and demonstrated as if real.
The trainee feels as if they are piloting a 120,000 tonne vessel up the channel to a major international port.
The college has just provided management consultancy in Angola and has turned a greenfield site into a fully operational maritime and offshore training centre. A nationalisation program was also undertaken where the team at NMCIS (services) trained Angolan to become fully qualified offshore and maritime survival instructors.
The college brings in huge numbers of people for maritime training courses from around the globe. Its clients can vary from local clients such as Kinsale Energy and Commissioner of Irish Lights, to large bluechip multinationals or clients from Middle East, Asia and further afield. A group of 240 Americans are due in the college in July for highly specialised environmental pool drills and jetty operations training.
Another aspect of the college is the Damage Repair Instructional Unit where personnel are trained in conditions mimicking a sinking ship. The unit replicates the interior of a ship’s hull and water floods in on command to test the survival skills of the workers.
The college also conducts team-building exercises where participants can race around say, Governor’s Island in New York Harbour or take part in problem-solving scenarios. Participants come from all industries, says Mr O’Rourke. Extreme weather conditions can be simulated to test the survival skills of maritime workers.
While its many courses are heavy on the acronyms the terms are well known within the industry. It is a maritime training specialists in STCW*, STCW Refresher, simulation, port, bespoke courses and OPITO*.
The latter qualification for example is a requirement for anyone working in the oil and gas industry. The National Maritime College of Ireland has invested over €60m into its ultra-modern training facilities and is at the forefront of maritime training centres globally.
The National Maritime College of Ireland is a huge Irish success story with a big knock-on effect to the local hospitality sector. Thousands of students have donned its survival suits or trained as marine engineers and thousands more industry professionals have trained in life-saving techniques or as ships’ pilots.
* The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships.
** Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation
* For more business, finance and careers news and features don't miss tomorrow's Money&Jobs section in your Irish Examiner print edition each Friday.
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