Cadets on board SA Agulhas and ready for a three-month voyage to the Antarctic. Picture: Samsa

It’s an adventure of a lifetime for 20 young marine cadets who joined the former research ship SA Agulhas last Friday to sail to the Antarctic in the company of a number of scientists from India.

The cadets, aged between 20 and 27 and former students of the Durban University of Technology and the Cape Peninsular University of Technology, are fresh from their studies and will now gain some of the best available experience of life at sea. 

Nineteen are deck cadets – the other being an engine room engineer-in-training. On the dock at Cape Town to see them off was the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s (Samsa) head of Maritime Special Projects, Ian Calvert. 

The ship is now a dedicated training vessel used by Samsa for providing maritime cadets with the valuable sea-time needed for their chosen career paths, while also undergoing further training while at sea.

Calvert said the voyage was a microcosm of the possibilities for South Africa in maritime development. 

“We are able to use our existing capabilities and expertise to provide training for young cadets.

“The maritime sector addresses job creation and promotes the country’s maritime interests. Being part of a private public partnership reduces the government cost burden on training. It can also ensure that base skills are aligned to meeting objectives of ocean economy

Travelling with them on board the vessel are two deck training officers, Captain Merwyn Pieters and Steven Paulse, who are highly experienced in the operation of the vessel and who have also travelled on a previous expedition in 2016.

Before their departure the cadets completed medical exams, induction, Designated Security Duties (DSD) and Personal Survival Techniques (PST), required for the long and cold but exciting journey ahead.

On their return they will be expected to complete the Marine Fire Fighting (FF), First Aid At Sea (Fass) and the Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (PSSR) courses next year. 

The South African Maritime Training Academy (Samtra) was appointed to manage the cadets and training operations for the Antarctic voyage.

SA Agulhas sailed from Cape Town on Friday and her first port of call will be Port Louis in Mauritius, where the Indian scientists are due to embark. 

From there the ship will sail south into the great Southern Ocean and the waters of Antarctica, providing 20 future mariners with the adventure of a lifetime.

SA Agulhas was built in 1977 as a supply and research vessel for the South African National Antarctic Programme research bases. 

The ship also made a number of voyages to Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean, as well as occasional visits to the remote South Atlantic islands of Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island, among others.

She was withdrawn from this service in April 2012 following the arrival of a new ice-strengthened polar research and supply ship, SA Agulhas II (which visited Durban twice recently). 

Soon after the older ship was transferred to Samsa on a five-year charter to be used as a dedicated training ship, since when she has made several trips to the Antarctic, including for an earlier expedition by Indian scientists. She has also visited West Africa and London. 

On each occasion maritime cadets from South Africa and several other countries were able to go to sea and gain additional experience and sea time.

SA Agulhas will return to South Africa in three months’ time.