Investing in a future Maritime generation through maritime education

Investing in a future Maritime generation through maritime education

As the ship in which South African seafarer Tyron Campbell was serving sailed towards New Orleans, he sighted another ship from the same fleet outward from the US port..

He called the ship and much to his delighted surprise, his call was answered by Paulette Maswanganyi, a former classmate at the Lawhill Maritime Centre in Simon’s Town..

Tyron and Paulette are two of many young South Africans – some from sprawling townships or informal settlements – who are now in worthwhile careers at sea or ashore thanks to the maritime education they received at the Lawhill Maritime Centre ( at Simon’s Town School (STS)..

Debbie Owen - Lawhill Maritime Centre - maritime educationShipping and Freight Resource caught up with Debbie Owen, the Head of Lawhill Maritime Centre who is also an IMO Maritime Ambassador, for an interview about the Centre and its activities..


What is Lawhill Maritime Centre about..??
What are the main objectives of this Centre..??
Where is Lawhill Maritime Centre located and what facilities does it have..??
What subjects are offered at Lawhill Maritime Centre..??
Who are the students of Lawhill Maritime Centre..??
Who are the main or major sponsors of Lawhill Maritime Centre..??
Who are the teachers involved in the Maritime studies at Lawhill Maritime Centre.??
What career choices do students have after Lawhill..??
What are some of the major challenges that Lawhill Maritime Centre faces..??
What is the most fulfilling part of completing studies at Lawhill Maritime Centre..??
Can you share some of the success stories from Lawhill Maritime Centre..??
Student-related success stories
Role of Lawhill Maritime Centre in the Economy

Q: Hello Debbie. Can you share with us what the STS Lawhill Maritime Centre is all about and some of its history?

A: In a nutshell, we’re all about using education to deal with youth upliftment and poverty alleviation.

As many may know, South Africa has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Africa (at 52%).  Africa also has the youngest population in the world and according to the African Economic Outlook report, this number is growing.

The continent in general, and South Africa in particular, also has a huge youth unemployment issue, a story that is often told alongside that of the continent’s economic growth prospects.

The Lawhill Maritime Centre was established at Simon’s Town School in 1995 as a non-racial establishment with a focus on alleviating youth unemployment and poverty through its school-based maritime education programme.

The Centre introduces the youth of Southern Africa to the maritime industry and equips them to take advantage of the country’s Blue Ocean Economy which has been identified by the SA Government as a growth and empowerment sector.

Lawhill takes its name from South Africa’s first trading training ship in which a number of the country’s maritime leaders sailed in the 1940s and is regarded by many as the new ‘vessel’ for training South Africa’s future maritime leaders.


Q: So, what are the main objectives of this Centre?

A: The main objectives of Lawhill Maritime Centre are:

To improve the employment prospects of young people, particularly those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, and provide them access to the maritime, shipping and freight industry.
To give decent, hard-working young people the opportunity to embark on exciting and potentially lucrative careers in the maritime industry and in so doing, improve their personal circumstances and those of their families.
To provide the maritime industry with motivated, quality entrants. We see ourselves as a filter for the industry.  A skilled workforce is, after all, key to the future sustainability of the maritime industry and we see enormous value in ‘catching them young’ so that young people deliberately choose the maritime industry over other industries.  If they don’t know about the opportunities offered by the industry – which many don’t – we will lose the brightest young minds to other industries.

Education at Lawhill also goes far beyond academics. Our aim is to provide a holistic education so there is enormous emphasis on providing young people with the soft skills they need.

Also, in view of the demands of the fourth or fifth industrial revolution, we are focusing on and encouraging aspects such as critical thinking and emotional intelligence.


Q: Where is the Centre located and are there any facilities available here?

A: The Lawhill Maritime Centre is located in Simon’s Town, South Africa.

In addition to providing instruction in the two maritime subjects, Maritime Economics and Nautical Science, we also provide comfortable residential, recreation and dining facilities for 66 maritime students.

We also have around 70 day students who live away from Simon’s Town and its environs participating in our maritime studies programme.


Q: What subjects are offered at Lawhill Maritime Centre?

A: As the specialist programme of Simon’s Town School, the Lawhill Maritime Centre provides maritime education for students during their last three years of secondary schooling (Grades 10-12).

The students, who are typically aged 15 to 17 years, are educated in two specialised subjects – Nautical Science, which prepares students for a sea-going career, and Maritime Economics, which gives a head-start to prospective entrants to the shoreside of shipping.

Lawhill Maritime Centre - investing in future maritime generation through maritime educationLawhill Maritime Centre - investing in future maritime generation through maritime education

Doing chart work in the Nautical Science classroom

These subjects are offered in addition to the standard school subjects of Mathematics, Physical Science, two languages, Life Orientation, History, Geography or Life Sciences.

We hope a third maritime-related subject – Marine Science (a combination of marine biology and oceanography) – will be offered from 2019.


Q: Who are the students of Lawhill Maritime Centre?

A: Most of our students come from financially-challenged backgrounds, many are from single-parent homes (some are orphans), and the overwhelming majority come from townships or informal settlements.   Despite the disadvantages that life has dealt them, they display a determination to do their best and a most positive work ethic.

The programme at Lawhill offers an opportunity for them to gain the dignity of employment and recognition within their communities where many become positive role models.

Given South Africa’s political history, such aspirations were beyond the dreams of many of their parents at a similar age but, with the ongoing support of the maritime industry, the chain of successes is likely to continue as several new entrants begin the course at the start of each new academic year.


Lawhill Maritime Centre - investing in future maritime generation through maritime education

Lawhill Maritime Centre - investing in future maritime generation through maritime education

Q: Who are the main or major sponsors of Lawhill Maritime Centre?

A: Safmarine, a member of the Maersk Group, is the founding sponsor of the programme, which celebrates its twenty third year of operation in 2018.

Other long standing supporters of our Centre over the years include

Grindrod Limited
SATS General Botha Old Boys Bursary Fund (GBOBBF)
South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)
TK Foundation
Transnet National Ports Authority

We have grown our bursary funder support base in the past years from four to 18.  Supporters include individuals, families and organisations who provide bursaries as well as grants, counselling, sports equipment, internships etc.

Our nautical science instruction has been boosted by the donation of an Electronic Navigation System (ENS) classroom where PC-based simulators replace paper charts.

The ECDIS system at Lawhill was donated to us by Maretek. Developed by its founder Captain Kieron Cox, the ECDIS system is in use around the world.


Q: What is your role at the Centre and who are the teachers involved in the Maritime studies at Lawhill Maritime Centre?

A:  My role as Head is to oversee the programme, to source the funding and to oversee the operation of our Centre to ensure that it maintains the high standards which have been set since the inception of the programme.  I am also responsible for increasing the awareness of our programme through various marketing activities and social media channels, amongst others.

While small in numbers, I am most fortunate to have a very experienced and committed staff.

Brian Ingpen, a former principal and educator for the past 45 years, has been our Maritime Economics Educator since the inception of our programme and Captain Godfrey Schlemmer, a retired naval officer, has been our Nautical Science Instructor for the past 16 years.

Brian Ingpen is also a maritime author and journalist and uses his interest in current affairs to provide a very special perspective in his teachings.  No two lessons are ever the same and the levels of engagement are extremely high.

We also incorporate project based learning (PBL) in our programme, which gives students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a creative way.

Everyone on the team is an educator at Lawhill and my support staff, Mr. and Mrs. Visser (Hostel Parents) and their three staff members (Mrs. Vraagom, Mrs. Robyn and Mr. Tukisi) do a fantastic job of nurturing the young people in their care, including feeding our 66 ‘hollowed legged’ teenagers three times a day, seven times a week for approximately 200 days a year!


Q: What career choices are available to students who qualify from Lawhill Maritime Centre?

A: After completing their time at Lawhill, successful students either move to tertiary institutions to prepare for sea-going careers as navigating officers or marine engineering officers; others go directly into the shipping industry ashore as trainee ship’s agents, clearing and forwarding agents, shipbrokers or into the offices of liner companies. (There are a few who do not meet the requirements of the shipping industry and seek other employment.)

Lawhill Maritime Centre - investing in future maritime generation through maritime educationLawhill Maritime Centre - investing in future maritime generation through maritime education

Shuneen van Niekerk, pictured onboard the Safmarine Orange, is currently serving onboard Safmarine vessels

We are also encouraging young people to see themselves as future employers and plan to include an entrepreneurial segment in our programme to encourage innovation and to grow employment in the maritime sector.  We are hoping that the industry will support us in this new venture.


Q: What are some of the major challenges that Lawhill Maritime Centre faces?

A: Although we are part of Simon’s Town School, which is a Government school, we receive no direct State funding.  We operate semi-autonomously and rely entirely on grants from the shipping industry to support our operation and provide study bursaries for our students who are drawn from across South Africa and Namibia.

While we have been fortunate to have the loyal support of a number of industry players (who provide the base funding for student tuition and boarding fees), we do require additional funding from time to time for special projects.

Finding this can be a challenge in the South African landscape given the lack of growth in the local maritime industry.

The industry also has a tendency to look for talent at university level but we believe that investment in a future maritime generation should be made well before that so that we increase the pool of talent overall.


Q: What is the most fulfilling part of completing studies at Lawhill Maritime Centre?

A: A past student who gains meaningful employment by embarking on a good career not only benefits personally but is able to lift several members of his/her family from the desperate poverty that is prevalent in many parts of society.

As a Lawhill team, we find great reward in having the opportunity to change lives for the better and our many success stories are testament to that.  It makes all the sacrifices, the very long working hours and the low ‘teacher’ salaries, worthwhile.


Q: Can you share some of the success stories from Lawhill Maritime Centre?

A: Lawhill Maritime Centre has had more than two decades of success and this has been demonstrated quite successfully in the careers of our past students.

Lawhill Maritime Centre has also won several awards in recognition of its contribution to maritime education.  These awards include the Lloyds List ‘Salute to Youth and Training’ award (London, 1999), the international Seatrade ‘Investment in People’ Award (London, 2012) and a Platinum Award from the Impumelelo Social Innovation Centre (Cape Town, 2013), amongst others.


There are also several student-related success stories.

Tobela Gqabu came from his rural home in the Eastern Cape to Lawhill at the start of his Grade 10 year in 2000. He soon proved to be an exemplary student, and, during a coastal training voyage in a containership in his senior year, he resolved that one day he would qualify as a master mariner.

Eleven years later, after serving in products tankers, he achieved his goal and became the first Lawhill past student to gain his master’s certificate of competency.

Another past student who was in tankers for much of his career is Vaughan Pillay (Class of 2003), who after a spell ashore, returned to sea to obtain his master’s certificate and currently is at sea with a Singapore-based offshore service vessel operator. He is the first former Lawhill student to take command of a vessel.

Initially, Rolf Seiboldt-Berry (Class of 2003) did not enjoy life at sea in tankers, but after obtaining his second mate’s ticket and a spell at university, he went back to sea – this time aboard a well-known superyacht in which he visited Norwegian fjords, Galapagos Islands and other Pacific archipelagos – garnering sufficient seatime for his master’s certificate which he gained in January 2015. Today he is our schools first Master of a superyacht.

Marine engineering is the preferred career of a number of Lawhill past students. Kelly Klaasen (head girl in the class of 2006) went this route and, four years later, won the National Seafarer of the Year Award. She has already completed her studies towards her chief engineer’s qualification while serving on Maersk Line and Safmarine vessels.  She will become our school’s first female Marine Chief Engineer and is most likely the highest qualified female marine engineer in South Africa.

Another marine engineer to emerge from Lawhill is Blondie Jobela (Class of 2007) who has also qualified as a marine engineer and is currently serving in cruise ships of the Royal Caribbean Line.  Her two brothers – Msikeli and Thando – have also followed their elder sister in pursuing a career at sea.

There are many more who have excelled in the industry, either at sea or ashore, and regularly share success stories on our website, Facebook page and via our termly newsletters.


Q: Why is Lawhill Maritime Centre’s role so important to the Oceans Economy of South Africa and Africa?

A: Maritime Industry is a key driver of growth and its importance to South Africa and the African continent cannot be highlighted enough.

As you have highlighted in your presentation about Skills & Talent Development in African Ports, there is a need for South Africa and other African countries/ports to create more awareness of the maritime potential of the continent.

As per the PWC Africa Report of November 2017,

“The lack of skills development is a persistent problem in Africa.  As a large portion of skilled individuals in the industry is set to retire soon, there is still a need to grow and develop the next generation of industry leaders in an effort to ensure succession planning.”

At Lawhill Maritime Centre, this is precisely what we are doing. Growing and developing the next generation of industry leaders for the Maritime Industry, and investing in a future maritime generation through education.

Thank you for this opportunity.


~~~ End of Interview ~~~


For more information on the Lawhill educational Centre and to find out how you can contribute/assist this incredible Centre, please visit or follow them Twitter (@LawhillMaritime) & Facebook (



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