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Making Waves

Founded little more than a decade ago, privately-held IMAT (Italian Maritime Academy Technologies) has quickly established itself as a global leader in maritime training.

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By Tony Munoz 01-01-2020 11:52:00

(Article originally published in July/Aug 2019 edition.)

The former cruise ship captain had a dream. He’d just returned from a trip to the U.S. where he saw a state-of-the-art maritime training center and decided he wanted to build one in his native land. Italy had nothing like it even though it boasted a long and illustrious maritime heritage. He would build something worthy of that heritage.

That was in 2001, when Captain Rosario Trapanese was between jobs. He had spent 14 years with Carnival as a captain and had just joined another company, albeit at a lower rank since that was standard procedure at the time. “I decided to stop,” he says, “because I saw a beautiful training center in the States. I had just started in Italy, but my knowledge and training were developed in Northern Europe and the U.S. I decided to stop and create a nautical college in Italy that didn’t exist at the time.”

It took five long years and a lot of sacrifice. The big break came in 2005 when he met Mario Mattioli, CEO of the Naples-based Cafima Group, a company whose roots in shipping date back centuries. Cafima owns Scinicariello Ship Management, Synergas (which operates eight LPG carriers), Augusta Offshore (17 OSVs) and Capieci Towing (harbor tugs in Messina and Milazzo). Mattioli listened to the concept and looked at the plans and agreed to support it. Then the real work began.  

Nautical College

Trapanese had already scoped out the location – about 20 minutes from Naples and an hour from the airport, on the site of a former five-star tourist hotel, which today serves as the main building with 40 classrooms and one of the largest simulator complexes in the world with 24 bridge simulators, two engine room simulators and 217 workstations. The hotel portion has 165 rooms along with dining and workout facilities and a 75-meter pool.

There are three external locations, all in close proximity. The first, about five minutes away, houses two firefighting shelters, one with a 75-meter vessel. The second has three lakes and another hotel building along with tennis and basketball courts and swimming and diving. Rescue and lifeboat drills are conducted there as well as loading and unloading operations. The third area has another lake that will be home to a new training vessel currently under construction.

IMAT-Training Center from IMAT on Vimeo.

“It’s impossible to have a facility so big in the city,” Trapanese explains. “If we join all the areas together, we reach over 600,000 square meters (148 acres).”

He calls it a “nautical college,” and indeed it is – with all the amenities of a college or university in the U.S. or Europe. Students study, sleep and eat in the same place. They stay anywhere from two days to three months, depending on the curriculum, because IMAT is the only facility in Italy accredited for all mandatory and recommended STCW training and refresher courses. There are 150 different course offerings with 45 starting up every week.

In addition to STCW accreditation and certification by the Italian Ministry of Transport and the Italian Coast Guard, IMAT is accredited by the Nautical Institute of London and has quality approval certification (ISO 9001-2015) from RINA. It’s also an approved center for SEAGULL and MARLINS testing.

About 20,000 students a year pass through its doors. On any given day there are 500 or so taking classes or firefighting training or man-overboard training. Most are Italian, but not all. English is the universal language, and all courses are taught in English.

“Our instructors, when they’re being selected, have to pass an English examination,” says Trapanese. “We have a former commander in the U.S. Navy selecting all the instructors. We can also run courses in Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. We’re expanding the nationality of instructors to cover the needs of our clients.”

A Different Kind of Academy

One of IMAT’s distinctive features is its financial strength. “IMAT is not funded by the region or the government or the European Community,” Trapanese states. “We’re private and dedicated to shipowners and seafarers.”

The school has consistently reinvested its income in people, equipment and facilities, which gives it a leg up in terms of offering the latest in cutting-edge technology. There are about 70 shipping companies in Italy, and IMAT has contracts with more than 50 of them. Other clients include the cruise industry – notably Carnival and its many brands – along with offshore companies, ferries, tankers and gas carriers, bulkers and container ships.

It’s really a “Who’s Who” of the maritime industry, and the variety and quality of customers – combined with the steady backing of the Mattioli family – ensure a stable and predictable flow of income.

It’s also a unique business model. Most maritime colleges and institutes are either government or union-funded and subject to bureaucratic oversight. IMAT has more flexibility. Then Trapanese made another breakthrough: He realized that, rather than provide training for seafarers, IMAT should provide training for companies – a far more profitable and dependable clientele. It was a brilliant strategic shift and a transition that started paying off immediately. Today, IMAT’s client companies together operate more than 1,200 vessels.

“Companies that send their crews here for training save a lot of money because you have only one training center,” he explains. “They save the cost of transfers from one facility to another. They get an all-inclusive flight rate. The contract agreement we have with a company is based either on the number of seafarers or on the number of ships. For cruise ships, it’s tailored to the number of seafarers they want to train. This will be discounted based on the number of seafarers. Cost-savings are up to 70 percent.”

There are other benefits as well. Because the school has a fixed annual calendar, it will run a course for even one student. Companies know when a particular course is being offered and can plan accordingly. “You don’t need a minimum number to start the course,” Trapanese says.

“Never Say No”

In addition, IMAT will customize course offerings to meet its clients’ needs. “We cover all areas,” Trapanese says. “We never say no to a client needing training in a specific area. We never say no because we have a group of people who can prepare and customize for any kind of course.”

And that means keeping up with the latest trends. Respect for the environment is one. IMAT is the only training center in Europe, for example, to hold a coveted Green Flag for zero pollution in its firefighting school. The entire IMAT facility will become totally plastics-free by the end of the year. A new engine room simulator for hydrogen propulsion will soon be added to the simulation center. And it’s already a leader in LNG firefighting training.

On the technology front, there are of course the simulators from Transas/Wartsila and Kongsberg. More intriguing is the unique floating platform utilized for rescue training and other purposes on one of the campus’s four lakes. It’s self-propelled and operates on the same principle as a jackup rig with four legs that can be raised or lowered as needed, so it can be moved from one location to another. A second floating platform is coming soon.

New courses include ice navigation to comply with the Polar Code, given the growing traffic along the Northern Sea Route and interest in polar exploration. Anchor-handling is another, which will complement the existing Dynamic Positioning offerings. A bigger challenge for IMAT comes in 2021 when 40,000 Italian seafarers will have to be recertified for firefighting training.

“We’ll need to double the size of our structure,” says Trapanese, and IMAT is constructing another training vessel that will be either a 1:1 scale model of a supply vessel or the forward and midsections of a cruise ship. It’s a €37 million project that will include all the real equipment found on a ship, and it will pay dividends for years.

Training, Not Courses

Despite all the emphasis on facilities and courses, Trapanese is quick to point out that, “We don’t provide courses, we train your crew!” And that in fact is IMAT’s mantra. Trapanese is a firm believer in human error being the biggest contributor to maritime accidents, and he runs his academy accordingly.

Comprehensive courses, world-class and well-paid instructors, state-of-the-art technology and a campus-like setting are all part of the package, but they’re not the whole story. There’s a difference between being educated and being trained. Training implies real-world experience. It means you’ve been exposed to a situation and lived through it and know how to handle it. It means you’ve practiced a procedure or drill over and over again until you’ve mastered it. That’s where IMAT puts its emphasis.

Today, thirteen years after its founding, what started as a dream in the mind of a mid-career cruise ship captain has evolved into a world-class maritime training center and lifelong learning institute where “Failure is not an option.” That’s the message you see throughout the facility, reminding students and visitors alike of what is really at stake here. It’s a fitting tribute to the long line of explorers who fearlessly set sail from Italy’s shores over the centuries and a testament to the country’s enduring maritime legacy. – MarEx  

Tony Munoz is Editor & Publisher-in-Chief of The Maritime Executive.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.