History of Nautical Training in Ireland
Nautical education began in a formal capacity in Dublin in 1889 with the resulting awarding of Certificates of Competency. However, nautical training had existed in Ireland in various forms for several centuries before that. It continued there and in Dun Laoghaire until 1975 when the Department of Education decided that all maritime training would be carried out at the Cork Regional Technical College (RTC). The Irish Nautical College was shut down and the staff and equipment transferred to Cork.
From 1975 to 1985 only the "senior” students studying for Department of Transport/Marine Certificates were catered for but a course leading to a College Certificate in Nautical Science commenced in Cork RTC in 1985. The large element of sea training required was carried out in the ships of the constituent companies of the Irish Chamber of Shipping. This changed over the years and now a considerable number of each course train in foreign ships, mostly UK based, thus providing Irish mariners with experience of shipping of all types and sizes from the world largest tankers down to small coastal bulk carriers.
Submissions were made to the National Council for Educational Awards for a Diploma in Science (Nautical Science) for this course, and were successful. The first intake of Diploma students was in 1987. This course has now evolved into the Bachelor of Science: Nautical Science currently on offer at NMCI.
Marine Engineering Courses began in Cork during the mid 1940's for a short period. However, it was not until 1955 that the first intake occurred in the present unbroken sequence of training. The sponsorship of Irish Shipping Ltd., and the opening of the dockyard at Rushbrooke as a shipbuilding yard were the main factors in this.
Students of that time participated in a three year course leading to the Special Technological Certificate. This was followed by a two year sojourn at an Engineering Works or Dockyard where practical experience in fitting/turning and general repair and maintenance was obtained.
Sea going duties commenced thereafter as a Junior Engineer Officer who was an assistant to the Engineer in charge of the Watch. The progression role from Junior to Fourth and Third Engineer Officer was generally by experience and hard work with each step in the ladder being of greater responsibility than that before.
To progress to Second Engineer one had to have sufficient sea time, study and pass the Second Class Certificate of Competency Steam or Motor as appropriate. Likewise to progress to Chief Engineer, further sea time and examinations were required.
However, there was no course for senior sea-going engineers available in Cork or elsewhere in the Republic of Ireland until 1967. This changed gradually with prospective candidates for the Board of Trade examinations initially studying at the Crawford Technical College on a voluntary tutorial basis. This was duly registered by the institution as full-time courses for 2nd and 1st Class Certificates of Competency.
The purchase of the training vessel Cill Airne in 1972 was a great asset in that running machinery was available with proper systems to work on and gain valuable experience. Students were awarded the Diploma in Marine Engineering for these studies and the course has since changed slightly to allow graduates to seek employment ashore if desired. NMCI now offers a Bachelor of Engineering: Marine and Plant Engineering to school leavers.
A new college
By the late 1990s the situation in the Department of Nautical Studies at Cork Institute of Technology (previously Cork Regional Technical College) was getting critical for a number of reasons. There was intense competition for space in the Bishopstown campus and the International Maritime Organization had establishment STCW95 Code. This code had serious implications as it laid down minimum standards for training seafarers. To remain compliant with the provision of the Code, considerable expenditure would have to be made by CIT particularly in the area of lifesaving and survival training and simulation facilities. Even without the requirements of the Code, the need for such re-equipping were imminent, the Code made it critical.
Similarly, in the Naval Service, training accommodation and facilities were seriously in need of improvement, and this was made more urgent by a management decision that naval officers should become compliant with the provisions of the STCW95 Code.
Informal discussion between naval officers and CIT staff led to the tentative proposal that possibly a joint solution to the problems of both organisations might be feasible. This quickly developed into more formal discussions, resulting in a meeting between Mr. Donal Burke, Head of Nautical Studies at CIT and Commodore John Kavanagh, Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service. At this meeting they agreed that a proposal be made to government that the Department of Defence site at Ringaskiddy be developed as a joint college, sharing expensive facilities, without duplication.
Also at this time there were several government initiatives examining seafarer employment and training in Ireland. The most important of these was a “Task Force” initiated by the Minister for the Marine, at the time. Dr. Michael Woods, TD. This eventually recommended, among other things such as subsidy for training, that a joint naval/mercantile marine college be established. After that, things moved fast with a Private Public Partnership arrangement, resulting in the present National Maritime College. Possibly the most significant factor in all this was the tremendous good will and positive attitude from so many different organisations and individuals. It is remarkable that so many disparate groups and people could work and follow through, in such a positive and expeditious manner towards a single goal. There are lessons here for other national projects.