Building Capacity in Mercy Ships Maritime Crew

Charting the Seas Ahead

Eleven Africa Mercy crew from seven nations progress to Ratings and Able Seafarer certifications

Even though the global pandemic has kept the Africa Mercy docked in the port of Granadilla Spain for extended annual maintenance, the maritime crew onboard the hospital ship are busier than ever. Recently, seven deckhands became Deck Ratings and four Deck Ratings became certified Able Seafarers on the Africa Mercy. Their accomplishments were honoured in a ceremony onboard.

Africa Mercy Crew
Africa Mercy crew celebrate their accomplishments during an onboard ceremony

On average, the Maritime Training Program offers training to 150 crew members and staff each year. This innovative training program ensures that deck crew are qualified to meet the legal staffing requirements and that they are set on a path to well-respected careers. International maritime requirements insist that maritime crew be trained and licensed. By offering the training free of charge to committed deck and engineering crew, Mercy Ships not only ensures that those maritime standards are met but demonstrates how much it values maritime volunteers.

Mercy Ships is known for providing free, world-class surgical care to people throughout West and Central Africa while partnering with healthcare workers through medical training and mentorship programs. Mercy Ships also supports a dynamic and sustainable training support to invest in maritime volunteers from many nations who help keep the hospital ship running.

“Without Deck and Engineering, the hospital on the ship is not going to function. Our job is to keep the ship as the platform so other programs can do their job. The dedication of our marine crew to keeping the Africa Mercy as a safe and functioning vessel is vital to the medical mission of Mercy Ships,” says Marcos Dos Santos, the Mercy Ships Maritime Training Manager.

The process of becoming a Deckhand with Mercy Ships begins with recruitment through Human Resources. Basic Safety Training certification, proficiency in security awareness and training in crowd management are necessary prerequisites for the ship’s maritime training.

Once the prerequisite training is complete, an approved applicant joins the ship as a Deckhand. However, the preparation does not end there. From day one, Mercy Ships provides deckhands with the training they need to attain a Maltese Deck Rating Certificate. All such instruction is designed to meet the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping (STCW) for Seafarers.

For a Deckhand to become a Deck Rating, he or she must complete six months of sea service as well as the task requirements in the International Shipping Federation On Board Training Record Book. Those tasks include, but are not limited to, safety familiarization, fire and safety regulation, navigation at the support level, and competency with nautical equipment. Once the training has concluded, the Record Book and other necessary paperwork are signed off by the Training Officer(s), the Captain, and Chief Engineer and is then sent to Malta for the Deck Rating certification as the Africa Mercy is flagged from Malta.

Kim Sanchez
Kim Sanchez, Academy Student, working in the Deck department during the sail

Kim Sanchez (Philippines) was recently promoted to Deck Rating onboard. He came as a student with his parents who applied to serve onboard. After graduating from the accredited K-12 school on the Africa Mercy in 2019, he says that the transition from student to Deckhand was smooth. “The training was a time to gain more experience and insight into what the job looks like and [how it] could prepare me to be ready 24/7 for emergency response.” For Kim, working on the mooring deck was the most challenging as following proper procedures was essential to staying safe. With continued training, Kim hopes to one day become an officer.

Abdulai Sesay, Deck Hand, on the Bridge wings during the sail

Along with Kim Sanchez, Abdulai Sesay (Sierra Leone) is also now a certified Deck Rating. When he first applied to Mercy Ships, he came to work in Housekeeping and then later in the Dining Room. After three years, Abdulai decided to join the Deck Department.

“I was not expecting to be in the maritime industry. When I came onboard the ship, they gave [me] that opportunity. You can work at the same time and get training. This kind of thing was amazing. I didn’t have to pay anything, so I felt like it was a great privilege for me.”

During his training, Abdulai appreciated the approachable nature of the training officers. He says he found they were encouraging and sought to make the instruction easy to understand. It is because of the training opportunities available through Mercy Ships that Abdulai is one step closer to his maritime career goal: “For now, I’m a Rating, but I’m trying to get my AB [Able Bodied Seafarer Certification], and when I get my AB, I’m targeting to become an officer.”

Before training to become an officer, a Deck Rating must become an Able Seaman. To attain those qualifications, a Deck Rating needs to complete the Proficiency in Survival Craft (PSC) training and complete an additional twelve months of sea service. As the Africa Mercy only sails two weeks per year, Mercy Ships partners with other commercial vessels to allow its maritime crew the opportunity to complete the required sail time they need to become Able Seafarers.

The unique environment that Mercy Ships offers its maritime crew is not like many other opportunities describes Nic Gardner, Second Officer.

“Because of the workload, low manning and industry pressure, most commercial ships have very little time and few resources for training,” says Nick. However, “the Africa Mercy deck department prioritizes training. The officers and experienced deck crew support people working towards various qualifications, and we have dedicated time and resources –including a training officer onboard.”

The TK Foundation has been a faithful partner with Mercy Ships since 2007, giving over $1M to the technical training fund and over $7M total. As the foundation side of the largest shipowner in the world, Teekay, the TK Foundation understands the need for well-qualified crew who enable Mercy Ships to move from port to port, year after year.

Highlighting the need for more maritime volunteers, Marcos Dos Santos challenges, “Come and have a lifetime of learning. Mercy Ships will take you to places that you’ve never imagined.” As an organization that strives for excellence, investing in preparing younger maritime crew for a lifetime of service is an essential mission within the mission and is critical to the values Mercy Ships represents.

For more information on maritime crew volunteer opportunities with Mercy Ships, visit

Story written by Zodi Schwind Photos ©Mercy Ships/Saul Loubassa Bighonda Edited by Diane Rickard

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