Despite its small population, the far-flung Bahamas archipelago enjoys impressive features and history as a maritime nation. The country has one of the world’s leading maritime registries with approximately between 1,500 to 1,600 ships carrying the Bahamas flag, and has a good international reputation in the maritime industry.
The Bahamas is home to the Grand Bahama Shipyard, one of the premier ship repair facilities in the world, and the largest cruise ship repair yard in the world. The Freeport Container Port is a significant transshipment center. The country hosts many cruise ships annually, including the largest cruise liners in the world.
The Bahamas archipelago is awash in maritime history. Native peoples navigated canoes to discover a new homeland, part islands but mostly sea, exploited and usurped by colonial greed and slavers in cargo ships, and trafficked by pirates and privateers in sloops and schooners who plundered with zeal over several centuries.
During global and regional wars and tentative or sustained peace, amidst slavery and colonialism, throughout the industrial age, through the waters of the Bahamas passed slave ships, merchant vessels, naval fleets, modern container ships and state-of-the-art cruise liners.
The moderns who made the archipelago their home, relied on the sea for food, trade, transport, sport, enjoyment and an impressive tourism industry, employing an armada of vessels, ingenuity and techniques to tame and when possible master the winds and the waves. Boatbuilding developed into a vibrant industry.
In the 21st century, the Lowell J. Mortimer Maritime Academy, a non-profit educational institution named in honour of the attorney, philanthropist and entrepreneur, represents a significant step in the country’s history as a maritime nation.
It also has significant potential for economic and national development. With youth unemployment staggeringly high, the Academy offers the potential for young people, between the ages of 18 to 35 to explore career options in the maritime sector.
The genesis of the Academy was the Maritime Summer Camp sponsored by Campbell Shipping. Over the course of a decade, the dream for a permanent maritime academy was nurtured by Mortimer and Dr. Brendamae Cleare, a former student of Mortimer’s and who is now President of the LJM Maritime Academy.
Both of them were driven by shared passions for education, and youth and national development.
Near the western entrance of Nassau Harbour lies Crystal Cay, once home to a small resort and mini aquarium atop which sits an iconic tower that has become something of a landmark. This site and an adjacent area of Arawak Cay have been transformed into the LJM Maritime Academy, which opened in 2014 with a cadre of students from diverse backgrounds.
The multiphase building program includes training facilities already built. Other facilities will include a dormitory and a maritime museum.
The Academy, launched by Campbell Shipping and Mortimer, is a center of learning and training with various levels and types of courses in a broad array of subjects in the maritime field. The goal is to offer longer-term courses of study as well as short courses for certification or re-certification in various areas.
With world class and state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, the Academy promises to be a leading regional training center, with the potential to train thousands of Bahamians for careers in the maritime sector.
The Academy’s sophisticated simulators, including a maritime fire training simulator, offers students “real-world experience on land before they hit the high seas”. Already $30 million has been invested in the approximately 15-acre Academy.
The Academy offers the potential for thousands of Bahamians to get a seafaring education that will allow them to be employed with a range of appreciable salaries on ships around the world. The remittance of such income back into the Bahamian economy would be significant.
Dr. Fritz H. A. Pinnock, Executive Director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute has noted the global shortage of “merchant navy officers, maritime business professionals and marine scientists and technologists.”
“Between the International Maritime Organization and the Baltic and International Maritime Council, they have predicted that the shortage of officers will reach 27,000 by 2015.
“With the Bahamas among the top five ship registries in the world with over 1,600 ships, you have the potential to employ over 5,000 officers.”
The Academy can help to significantly boost the maritime sector as a means of employment and opportunities for Bahamians especially with the demand for mariners over the next 20 to 25 years.
But to ensure that Bahamians are able to take advantage of the Academy will require a significant investment in funding and scholarships from general donors, government and those in the maritime sector. The current level of financial support from the government is relatively low and should be significantly increased.
The Academy might consider as a part of its appeal to large individual donors and corporate sponsors the fact that Bahamians can now train at home for various maritime careers, before interning on a ship and returning home to complete their studies.
The ability to train at home boosts the local economy. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force should make full use of this facility to train its maritime officers here at home.
One of the Academy’s goals is the creation of a maritime museum. Such a museum, well-designed, could become a major tourism attraction. An interactive facility, featuring low-tech simulators and a maritime history of the Bahamas, including examples or replicas of certain vessels, could bring in hundreds of thousands or more tourists a year and can be an exciting part of a heritage tourism program.
Along with a gift shop and restaurant, such a museum would serve as a necessary source of funding. As importantly, a maritime museum will help Bahamians to better appreciate a significant part of our history.
The Lowell J. Mortimer Maritime Academy represents an extraordinary opportunity for the country to boost economic development and to celebrate our maritime legacy. It is an endeavor which should be more widely known, and more significantly supported by both the public and private sectors.