Excited officials on board the vessel, among them a group of scientists from India and about 30 South African youths on cadet training, beamed back home a series of photographs of their half-way point journey, indicating the smooth track of the research expedition since about a month ago.

The SA Agulhas left Cape Town 48 days ago on Wednesday (December 14, 2016), headed for Port Louis in Mauritius where she took on board a group of Indian scientists that are part of the research expedition before she headed south towards the Antarctica – precisely the 68th parallel, a circle of latitude that crosses the southern ocean and Antarctica.

In the area and along the route, she’d carry out survey work expected to take a few weeks into later this month. On Monday this week, she reached the halfway point from which she will then turn around and head back to Mauritius.

Officers on board beamed the first photographs of the research and training vessel’s encounter with the icy conditions of the region. At the time of the encounter with icy conditions, according to Roland Shortt, Operations Manager/DPA for Maritime Special Projects at SAMSA Cape Town office, the vessel was located in Prydz Bay.

It is the research and dedicated training vessel’s first long journey on otherwise familiar territory around the Antarctica in more than two years – an intervening period she’d been devoted strictly to cadet training and skills development by SAMSA while occasionally anchoring at Quay 500 at the port of Cape Town.

The cadet programme she is still engaged in is now managed by newly established South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) based at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, situated in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, and funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training through the National Skills Fund.

As it were, on departure in December, the vessel had as part of its crew on board as many as 30 cadets in two groups; 23 Deck and seven (7) Engine cadets under the command of Master Mariner Captain D. Postman, Chief Engineer, D Jennings, assisted by Senior Deck Training Officer, Merwyn Pieters and Deck Training Officer, S. Paulse.

According to the South African Maritime Training Academy (SAMTRA) charged along with Marine Crew Services) with management of the training, since sailing off from Cape Town to Mauritius and from Mauritius to the Antarctic region, the cadets in their respective groups – the Deck cadets split into groups of four (4) for rotation every seven (7) days – have been involved in extensive training arranged in four week cycles.

SAMTRA says the seafarer skills development initiative on board the SA Agulhas, in both lecturer format and practical engagement, encompasses Seamanship, Navigation, Bridge Watch and Deck Maintenance, complimented by a range of practical activities intended to both familiarize them in real time with a vessel design and mechanics through to its management under a variety of sea conditions.

The cadets will have four months of intensive hands-on and theoretical training while on board, required to clock up to about 32 hours of lectures a week on board, in addition to project and practical work, according Mr Pieters. This will be achieved due partly to the fact that none of the training is obstructive on board the vessel as the SA Agulhas features a world class simulator enabling exercises to be conducted without interfering with the operations of the vessel.

According to SAMTRA, those who successfully complete the fast-track training programme on board will need to complete another 20 months on board trading vessels before they can sit for their oral exams to complete their qualification, the Certificate of Competency (CoC) issued by SAMSA in terms of the international convention on Standards on Training, Certification and Watch-Keeping (STCW).

The research and training expedition is expected to be completed mid-way through February, with the SA Agulhas expected due back at Port Louis on about February 26, and back in Cape Town sometime midway through March.

On receiving the news Tuesday of the SA Agulhas having reached its half-way point on the journey by entering the Antarctica ice passage, SAMSA acting CEO, Mr Sobantu Tilayi shared a congratulatory message with all the organization’s personnel involved with arrangements of the expedition applauding them for their contributions.