Up on the northwestern tip of Trinidad & Tobago, in Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas, lies one of the country’s two coast guard bases. Only separated by the narrow straits of Bocas del Dragón, you can see the northern point of the Venezuelan mainland from the premises. These are drug trafficking waters. It takes skilled seamen to protect the coastline. And to educate skilled seamen it takes skilled and experienced instructor.
The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard is responsible for the island nation’s maritime capabilities and is primarily involved with combating the drug trade. It’s a never-ending mission trying to intercept the frequent drug shipments on the route from the South American mainland.
This puts great demands on the Coast Guard’s skills and abilities to outsmart the drug trafficking vessels.
In 2015 the Ministry of National Security contractedwith Dutch company Damen Shipbuilders for four 50-metre, 28-knot coastal patrol vessels, two 50-metre fast utility boats and six 11-metre, 53-knot interceptors. A much welcomed addition in order to strengthen the naval surveillance.
However, it’s one thing to buy state-of-the-art equipment, another to get the maximum potential out of it and the people designated to operate it.
Over the past years, Spectre Marine has expanded its operations internationally, attracting highly experienced instructors from all around the world, to convey the content of their training systems and broad range of courses for both military and civilian purposes.
The order from the Dutch shipbuilder included a complete training programme. When it comes to proficiently running marine educational projects, Spectre Marine has earned quite a reputation and is often entrusted with the task. Not only because of the high standard of the training, but also largely thanks to its instructional model, a philosophy and methodology that stems from Scandinavian traditions.
Mattias Heribertsson, Spectre’s Head Instructor for the project explains: “If you’re used to instructional methods that are hierarchic or based on one-way communication, this is the total opposite. We’re always trying to create a training atmosphere in which students feel at ease and dare to leave their comfort zone. Mistakes are fully acceptable, as long as you and the group learn from them. And it’s important to speak up and ask questions when you don’t fully understand.”
Motivating and rewarding
Spectre Marine’s instructional model is based on a concept of confidence and mutual trust between students and instructors. No punishments occur, just encouragement, which is proven to promote learning and development.
Most of the responsibility for the training’s success rate rests on the shoulders of the instructors. They have to stay humble and do thorough research on how to get the best results in the existing preconditions.
“We visit the site before we start our mission, sometimes several times. That’s the only way we can really customise our programmes”, says Peter Bergqvist, Senior Educational developer at Spectre Marine.
“We’re always trying to create a training atmosphere in which students feel at ease and dare to leave their comfort zone. Mistakes are fully acceptable, as long as you and the group learn from them. And it’s important to speak up and ask questions when you don’t fully understand”
Flexibility is the leverage
Although each and every one of Spectre’s training programmes are specifically designed to suit the customer’s unique goals and needs, there are always individual circumstances within every project that will make the masterplan deviate somewhat.
“When we put together the tailored training plan we always keep it flexible and able to handle cultural and political differences. For example, it’s no use for me yelling about students not being exactly on time, when the local custom is showing up somewhere around the scheduled time. Or if the training vessels are assigned on short notice to other missions on a training day. You have to adapt quickly to these things and make sure the work gets done anyway.”
Spectre’s specific mission in Trinidad & Tobago is to teach the selected group of coast guard sailors how to master launch and recovery operations. These operations are among the most risky conducted at sea and accidents are preventable through standardised procedures and practice.
There are some basic requirements that have to be fulfilled to participate in the launch and recovery part of the training. In this case, the most important requirement was knowing how to handle high speed boat driving.
“The students were divided into two groups and we soon discovered that their set of skills differed a lot. The first group had 8 to 14 years experience at sea, while the second hadn’t spent more than a couple of years in the coast guard force, some of them mostly behind a desk.
These are such moments where you have to adapt the training to the prevailing level. Considering the importance of the final result, we had to change the set-up of the course and we also added some extra time to get everyone on board, and take it step by step from there.
“Flexibility is our leverage, along with our attention to detail”, explains Andrés Sotos, Spectre’s instructor who is flown in from Chile.
“We leave behind a set of useful tools and skills that our students will have to keep on developing. That can only be done through continuous practise.”
Treacherous waters and illegal transports
In Golfo de Paria, the bay south of the base, the waters are quite calm. But on the northern coast, it is quite the opposite, with tricky currents and swell hitting the shoreline.
Rough conditions are nothing that deter drug traffickers from keeping their operations going. Therefore it is important for the Coast Guard to stay on top of things when it comes to navigating in these waters.
“First we make sure, that everybody reaches the level needed to move on to the next and final section of the training; launch and recovery. It’s important, especially under these particular circumstances, that we go through all routines in detail and practise and repeat them until everybody’s worked it into their system. That’s the only way to avoid unnecessary injuries and damage to the equipment.” In the end, after a total of nine weeks, the training is completed. For now, that is.
“We leave behind a set of useful tools and skills that our students will have to keep on developing. That can only be done through continuous practise. We offer refresher courses, if needed. Our recommendation is to carry out organised repetition exercises on a regular basis, such as annually.”
Extracurricular knowledge in the bargain
Apart from the actual scheduled training elements there are usually many other benefits that can be derived from Spectre’s training programmes.
“As we focus a great deal on boatmanship in general, and also the technical maintenance side of it, we often add something new to our clients’ existing routines. For instance, a much appreciated element during our nine weeks of training was radar navigation in the dark.
Although it wasn’t the main focus of the course we were happy to contribute to extra knowledge that we know will come in handy. Our participants seemed very happy about it.
If our students enjoyed these weeks half as much as we did, we must consider it a success. Above all, we are proud of what all the participants have achieved and the huge amount of progress they have displayed during this training occasion”, finishes Peter Bergqvist.