“Hello Tobias, I hope you are doing well over there. I’m sorry for taking long to get back to you. I had sailed out in the last two weeks to avoid the typhoons here. It’s already 10:30 pm here. I am also set to sail tomorrow for the next three days. Attached here are the answers to the interview questions we discussed earlier.”
That is the mail I received from one Ken Korir. It was on Sunday, at 4.30PM Kenyan time. Yes, if you did not know, South Korea is six hours ahead of Kenya. Ken is one of the four JKUAT Marine Engineering students who are currently in South Korean waters undertaking onboard training under the Korea Maritime and Ocean University (KMOU). The KMOU is South Korea’s national University for maritime study, transportation, science and engineering. It is located in Yeondo-gu in Busan. As a requirement by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), one is required to undertake a 12 months’ seaboard training before or after completing undergraduate course in Marine Engineering. Despite the huge potential that Marine Engineering has, it is considerably an untapped field in Kenya, and the country lacks a training ship where students can undertake their onboard training. This has steered the University’s Department of Marine Engineering to find ways of ensuring their students get this crucial training upon finishing the five-year course work.
In their latest effort towards the same, the University has facilitated six students to get this training abroad. Two students are currently in Brazil, aboard Merchant Ship, Stellar Cosmo. Do you remember the story we featured two weeks ago on the ‘Alumnus of the Week segment’? C’mon, you don’t? Feel free to read it here. It was about one Joseph Ngaru, also undertaking his onboard training in Brazil. We will be highlighting the experiences of these formidable JKUAT alumni who are putting their best feet forward in lands far away from home with the hope of getting back and transforming the society.
This week therefore we go to South Korea hear the sentiments and the experience that Mr. Ken Korir has had so far.
Briefly describe your career journey this far.
I completed my undergraduate in December 2015 and now continuing with my onboard training after which am to undertake a COC examination offered by the KMA (Kenya Maritime Authority). I started my training here this April 2016, as one of the four students who were selected to undertake the training at KMOU under the scholarship of Mr. Bang in collaboration with JKUAT and KMOU.
Apart from the academic provision, what role has JKUAT played in your career development?
JKUAT has played an important role in equipping me with the knowledge that is up to the international standards. This makes me competent in the maritime field.
How would you describe the kind of training you got in JKUAT in the field of Marine Engineering?
Marine Engineering is a new field in Kenya but JKUAT has stood up to the challenges of venturing into this field, with trained and competent staff in the field. What JKUAT offers is as per the requirements of the IMO.
Do you think studying at JKUAT has made you uniquely equipped and qualified to handle various jobs and initiatives? If yes, kindly elaborate.
YES, JKUAT has workshops that help in training of students to do the practical part of the course and projects, the staff are competent and train the students as required by the course. I was also able to acquire skills that make me handle various jobs apart from maritime field.
What are your most treasured memories of JKUAT while you were a student?
My time of cadet (paramilitary) training at NYS. It was both intensive and illuminating.
In all your undertakings, what keeps you going and what has been your work/life philosophy or principle?
Always give my best in what I do, “Never do your job because you are paid to do it but do what you do because you like it”. Never handle something you are not sure of ask for assistance instead, any mistake in maritime field can be dangerous and costly.
What are your career plans going forward?
My ambition is to sail until I obtain the chief engineer’s license, from there I can consider exploring the offshore fields.
Marine Engineering is a new discipline in Kenya and Africa as a whole. From your experience what would you cite as the opportunities and challenges in the field?
Yes, Maritime industry is new in Africa and especially though it is an old industry worldwide, there are so many opportunities in this field, as you know almost 90% of goods around the world are transported through the seas.
Being a new course there are various challenges, for example, the students are required to do an onboard training before graduating but JKUAT has no training ship and Kenya as a country does not own any ship and this has become a nightmare to some of the students to secure a ship to do their onboard train.
Are there any improvements or adjustments you think the Marine Engineering Department in JKUAT should effect?
The institute should do bench marking in some world leading maritime institutions, the course content and also the time taken should be looked into. For example, in Korean Maritime University, the course takes a total of 4 years with the onboard training but in JKUAT, the course takes 5 years, which adds to 6 years with the onboard training.
I think the onboard training should also be scheduled within the 5 years of study and the institution should take as their responsibility to find ships for all the students to undertake the onboard training.
Kindly briefly describe the experience you’ve had in South Korea this far
Getting a firsthand experience and the exposure to the real situations and conditions in the ship has been a great and amazing experience. Here, I have a chance to do everything practically in the training ship, like using engine simulators.
How do you intend to use your professional expertise to make positive impact in the society and Kenya in specific?
I plan to help, in all ways I can, in developing the maritime industry in Kenya, and encouraging young people to venture into this new field.
What is your word of advice to the current and prospective JKUAT students taking the course you studied at the University?
I would advise the prospective students in the maritime field not to be scared to venture into this new field, it very promising, for the current students I will tell them to work smart and ensure that their get their facts right, maritime industry is a very wide field. It is very green since there is a shortage of seafarers worldwide.