A Sh40 million facility, Marine Engine Room Simulator, aimed at making Mombasa Polytechnic University College the hub of maritime technology training has been completed.
The facility, one of its kind in East and Central Africa region, and believed to be the largest in Africa, is expected to make MPUC, a constituent college of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, the best trainer of students on operation of ship simulator engines.
One such facility, according to the lecturers at the institution's School of Engineering, is found at the University of Alexandria in Egypt and another one in South Africa.
"The ones in Egypt and South Africa are smaller than this one. This means we are going at the helm of marine technology studies if we get to fully fledged status," says Gerald Mang'eni, chairperson of the mechanical and engineering department at the institution.
This comes as the university college anxiously awaits the award of the University Charter to make it the first fully-fledged institution at the Coast.
The machine set up at the mechanical and automotive engineering department looks like a normal cargo ships' engine.
"This is exactly the setting of any container or cargo ship engine but this is mainly used for studies in a laboratory set up like this," explains Kennedy Kishawi, one of the lecturers as we enter the room for illustration on how the simulation machine works. Kishawi says the machine is used for simulation of all the faults when the ship is cruising on water.
On one side, there are a fresh and salty water system regulators, speed regulators and electrical regulators. Also there is an emergency regulator with an alarm bell installed for alerting when danger is detected.
Kishawi says the engine is capable of detecting close to 1,000 faults that can be envisaged in the sea at a time. "It's good enough to equip degree, diploma and certificate students with skills and knowledge required in the ship engine simulator operation," he says.
An international-standard facility, according to Kishawi, it offers self-contained training for all maritime engineers, helping students to learn how to synchronise the operation of the entire ship engine.
"This is the machine recommended for training maritime officers according to International Maritime Organisation standards," says Kishawi.
Mang'eni says the college has already benchmarked with international universities involved in the maritime training and soon they will be rolling out a degree programme.
"We have gone far in benchmarking and I think we are up to task to start offering the degree programmes in maritime studies any time from now," says Mang'eni.
The institution, according to Mang'eni, has already benchmarked with Malmo Maritime University in Sweden, the largest in the world for maritime engineering, JKUAT, Egypt's Alexandria University from where most of KPA staff are trained and a University in South Africa.
The college has been given a nod by IMO through a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the college and the Kenya Maritime Authority to start offering the training.
According to the college principal Prof Kazungu Mwatela, the MoU gives them an edge in offering the much needed maritime knowledge.
"MPUC did sign an MoU with KMA on November 19, 2010 to start offering such skills at the college. We intend to tap into the growing needs of such skills especially with the coming of a new port in Lamu and expansion of Mombasa port," says Mwatela. Mwatela adds that setting up of such a facility is a big milestone.
"We used Sh40 million given to us by the government to purchase and install the machine and I know it's going to make us proud as an institution. We want to be the first people to start offering such high level studies in the country," Mwatela says.
KMA safety engineer Wilfred Kagimbi agrees that they are part of the programme as a regulator as MPUC settles down to start offering maritime degree course.
"This is just the beginning of what the sector wants to do. Kenya should be ready to train enough maritime personnel and even export the same to other countries," he says.
"We really need to have our own sophisticated facilities to capitalise on the growing needs of training new engineers as well sharpening the existing ones in the sector. The course at MPUC will do us a great deal as a sector," Kagimbi says.
Mang'eni said already Kenya Police, Kenya Navy and KPA have made enquiries about the training of their staff and officers at the facility.
Mang'eni said the dream of making the institution a centre of maritime studies will be realised next year with the launch of the degree programme.
"Currently, the program has 15 students in the second year at the diploma level and 10 students in the first year at the same programme. The degree programme will be offered next year. The curriculum has already been approved," Mang'eni says.
According to Mang'eni, an average degree and diploma student undergoing such training will have to spend 18 and six months respectively in the sea as part of the exposure before being released to the job market.
The revived Association of Seafarers of Kenya secretary general Andrew Mwangura lauds the latest developments at MPUC.
"We are working closely with them. We are soon signing a memorandum to have seafarers trained there. The facility will be of great help to the maritime business in the region.
"We are on the verge of achieving our long term struggle of having such a facility with us here in the port city of Mombasa," says Mwangura.
He says most of the seafarers from Kenya cannot operate outside the Kenyan waters for lack of proper training as stipulated in the IMO regulations.
Mwangura says the training will address the problem of labour shortage in the maritime sector. KPA's public relations officer Hajji Masemo said the program would be of help to the parastatal.
"This program will be cheaper for us if indeed MPUC will offer the sector's up-to-date courses. Other than sending our officers overseas as we do now, KPA may consider capitalising on that," Masemo says.