CASTINE – In a small lab at Maine Maritime Academy, a scaled replica of a tanker-barge is helping students learn the basics of loading and unloading liquid fuels.
Although the oceangoing petroleum tanker-barge simulator is just a fraction of the size of a real-life tanker barge, it is providing students with the hands-on experience they need to work on the real thing.
The simulator was installed on campus last semester and will be dedicated today in honor of OSG America, a shipping company based in Tampa, Fla., that provided the lead contributions for its construction. The public is invited to the ceremony at 3:30 p.m. that will include a demonstration for senior executives from OSG America.
The simulator replaces an outdated 30-year-old model, according to Capt. Ralph Pundt, chair of the college’s William F. Thompson School of Marine Transportation. Pundt teaches the tanker operations course.
“The old model looked like a ship, which I liked, but the systems were too easy,” he said. “Because of the complexity and the versatility, the new simulator provides the students with a much better understanding of operations.”
Pundt added proudly that the simulator was built by two MMA graduates, Ben Rogers and Matt Bowman, who bid on the project as private contractors.
“They had just finished taking the class,” he said. “They knew exactly what I wanted and they knew how I used it. They made everything and it turned out about 1,000 times better than I expected.”
The barge, which sits in a tank of water in the lab, is a conglomeration of cargo bays, pipes and different colored valves that direct different types of liquid fuels to different bays. While that seems like a simple procedure, Pundt stressed that it is anything but.
The course is designed to give students some familiarity with the fuel-loading procedures they will encounter when they go on cadet shipping, an internship on commercial vessels at the end of their sophomore year. Approximately 60 students will work on the simulator each year.
“There are a number of different things they have to be aware of when loading fuel,” Pundt said. “Each cargo has a different weight, so where you put the cargo is important to how the ship will ride in the open sea. Loading cargo creates stresses on the ship. If you’re not careful, you can physically break the ship. And they have to be aware of stability so they don’t flip the ship over.”
Although the simulator barge is just 18 feet long, 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep, it accurately represents the types of operations and processes the students will encounter on board a tanker-barge, he said. The situations they encounter during the course realistically mirror those they will see in real-life situations, he said.
“They need to have the experience they can count on,” he said.
Pundt divides students into teams in the simulator lab to match positions they will be asked to serve on board a tanker-barge.
“They learn management, communications and teamwork skills,” he said, “and they also gain the knowledge to turn the right valve at the right time.”
Throughout the course, Pundt said, the scenarios the students work through become more and more complex and include loading and offloading multiple products while shifting ballast. The simulator and its parts react the way a real vessel reacts to those operations, he said.
“They need to have this kind of versatility at this point in the game. They need to see exactly what they’re doing,” he said.