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OPINION|Re-establish Merchant Navy Training Board

Off-loading of cargo at the Mombasa Container Terminal. PHOTO/MAARAFU MOHAMED


Recruitment of certified seafarers (cadets) in Kenya is done in an opaque manner, and it’s a challenge affecting the entire maritime sector in the country.

The shambolic processes make it difficult for younger seafarers to obtain their first onboard assignments. Yet employing these eager recruits is a golden opportunity to build skills of the young cadets and therefore enhance their future prospects and that of the Kenya National Shipping Line (KNSL) at large.

Kenya is ill-equipped and ill-prepared on the aspect of maritime education and training. Maritime training institutions in Kenya do not have enough training equipment and qualified tutors as well as a training ship. High quality education and training are vital to preserve the quality, practical skills and competence of qualified seafarers-keeping vessels safe, protecting the environment and keeping trade flowing.

Maritime sector currently faces great challenges ranging from poor infrastructural development, congestion, lack of ship repair equipment, inadequate marine engineers and naval architects, inadequate human resources and inadequate training facilities, among others.

The government and the sector at large need to examine the typical stages of recruitment processes and mindset around the world so that we are able to understand how to support these new seafarers. This entails tackling problems hindering the recruitment system and offering a range of solutions for streamlining the sector.

Key issues that such a review needs to address are:

The prospects of ship-owners, ship operators and young officers themselves; the relationship between Seafarers training and the recruitment process; the skills and profiles that may help Candidates rise to the top of the selection pool; and establishment of Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB).

The MNTB must be anchored in the Merchant Shipping Act in order to be effective. The MNTB will be a formal stakeholder forum to address Seafarers Training, Replacement and Recruitment of Seafarers. The MNTB shall work closely with shipping and ship management companies, nautical educational establishments and organizations, seafarer trade unions, and industry organizations with an interest in seafarer education and training.

A tug boat with seafarers at Mombasa port. PHOTO/MAARAFU MOHAMED

The MNTB will provide the link to government departments and bodies involved with the shipping industry as well as those involved with the Kenya skills agenda and education and training developments. The proposed MNTB will work closely with the stakeholders to achieve joint aims with partner organizations in the maritime sector. Meanwhile, we can reconstitute Maritime Education and Training Committee (METC).

The then Maritime Education and Training Committee (METC) has a history stretching back to 1960s, when it was founded as the Central Board for the Training of Officers and Ratings in the Merchant Marine. After reconstituting the METC, we can then establish a Merchant Navy Training Board MNTB to be an authoritative Centre of expertise and information on careers, education and training, and skill needs and issues in the industry.

MNTB’s work is to deliver skilled seafarers to the Merchant Navy and the wider shipping industry both now and in the future by ensuring, the best training is delivered by the best organizations, to create the best seafarers.

Board Members:

The work of the MNTB must be overseen by a board made up of representatives of shipping companies, seafarer unions, maritime educational establishments and interests. The Ministry of Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs will have ‘assessor’ status at the Board and attends Board meetings by invitation.

The Board’s Chairman:

The Board’s Chairman must be a Merchant Mariner with over 30 years’ experience covering all aspects of the industry.

The Board shall consist of:

Ship managers, ship owners, crewing and manning agents, seafarers’ organizations and Maritime Education and Training Institutions.

Observer status shall consist of:

Kenya Maritime Authority, Ministry of Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs, Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The proposed MNTB shall get operational funding from Merchant Shipping Levy and from the stakeholders.

The government should set aside a 60 percent budget for Merchant Navy Training Board collected from the Merchant Shipping Levy.

Historical Background:

A makeshift Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) was created in the mid nineteen sixties’ by a combined effort of stake holders in the shipping industry in East Africa and the following were the role players.

  • Late Bentley Buckle who was the founder of the defunct Southern Lines Limited and an entrepreneur who set the then East African National Shipping Line (EANSL) and sold it to the four east African countries Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia
  • Late Captain Keith Trayner who served as Marine Superintendent and Chairman of the Mombasa based Southern Lines Limited…Capt.Trayner was also a founder of COMARCO.

  • Late Thomas Mascal a marine engineer represented the East African Railways and Harbours.
  • The management of East African National Shipping Line.

Off-loading of loose cargo from a ship at Mombasa port. PHOTO/MAARAFU MOHAMED

Milestones (Marine Engineering & Nautical studies):

  • It is the above team that negotiated with the Board of trade in UK to recognize the following facilities for the training of marine engineers in East Africa:

– Kenya Polytechnic… Technical University in Nairobi

– Mombasa Institute of Muslim Education (MIOME)…now Technical University of Mombasa

– African Marine & General Engineering Company in Mombasa

– Chief Engineer’s Workshop (Railways) in Nairobi

  • Each year EANSL recruited 8 cadets from the four countries. The engineering cadets were trained in the above approved facilities whilst the 4 deck cadets preceded to the EANSL ships for sea time and examinations in UK.

In a decade and half (1965-1980) that was a remarkable achievement. Our nation produced adequate trained officers to replace the expatriate mariners in our maritime industry. At the same time it is an illustration how an MNTB works to achieve goals.

Maritime education and training providers:

  • In most of the Maritime Education and Training Institutions in Kenya Students are more class based than exposing them in practical aspects of the profession in labs and workshops. In some Institutions the equipment are inadequate to cater for the entire class.
  • During the entire period of three years, officers’ qualities, leadership, adaptability and team spirit are observed and assessed for each cadet
  • Lack facilities to train ratings and lack of experienced teachers in MET and most majority of tutors are not holders of recognized certificate of competency. That is either Class 1 or 2.

The remuneration is not attractive to retain holders of recognized Class 1 and 2  Certificate of Competency.

  • There other support services for the blue economy that deserve to be included as short courses; Marine survey, Fishing, commercial diving, cargo logistics, administration and client services; the list can go on and on .Maritime industry is one of the largest in the world.
  • Last and not least since MET took off and the country entered into the white list around 2010 only one student so far has managed to attain Class 3 Certificate of competency


  • Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) is leading in supporting MET. The Dockyard and the vessels are accessible within short notice for educational visits.
  • MET needs to get more support from SECO and AMGECO since they are leaders in Shipbuilding and ship repairs.

It is extremely disappointing that since MET was implemented in our local institutions only a single trainee has managed to qualify as a 3rd class engineer issued by KMA. This is an issue that needs to be investigated and determined why and what is the root cause. There are two possibilities.

Either the trainees do not have the qualifying sea time to take the examination or have attempted and failed. For the failures it appears the institutions are underperforming.

Andrew Mwangura is a public intellectual at Nautical Advisory Services.

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