Fremont Maritime – Training for Competency as Well as Certifications

By Michael A. Moore
When it comes to maritime safety, Captain Jon Kjaerulff of
Fremont Maritime Services is a true believer – and he spreads the gospel of
safety with all the fervor of a tent revival preacher.
Captain Kjaerulff started on his mission of not only
preaching but teaching maritime safety in a hands-on manner 25 years ago when
he founded Fremont Maritime Services.
“In the beginning, it was just me,” said
Kjaerulff. “There wasn’t much money, I was going around to individual
fishing boats. Then I approached the North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners’
Association and they helped me get contacts, plus we were able to get a joint
$20,000 grant from the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial Committee in 1991 to buy a
van, a life raft, survival gear and some Coast Guard dewatering pumps. The
first time a lot of guys would ever see a dewatering pump was when the vessel
was sinking and they had to use it for real.”
Jon Kjaerulff’s zeal for shipboard safety stems from early
in his career, when he was 23 years old, a recent graduate of the US Merchant
Marine Academy at Kings Point, and a mate on a Bering Sea fish processor.
“I was standing my first watch when we picked up an
emergency radio message that a fishing boat about nine miles away was
foundering, taking on water,” he said. “I watched through my
binoculars as it was sinking – the fastest our ship could go was eight knots.
It took us an hour to get there.
“When we arrived on the scene, the crew was in the
frigid water, clinging to an inflatable life raft canister. None of them had
any training on how to pull the lanyard to inflate the raft. It was something
I’ve always remembered.”
Jon Kjaerulff spent another six years at sea, rising to the
rank of Captain, before he decided to make a business from his experience. His
last two years of active sailing were spent as Captain of the 155-foot salmon
and herring processor Aleutian Dragon, operating in waters throughout Alaska.
“I really saw a need for safety survival training, and
for firefighting training,” he said. “I looked at the Navy for inspiration
– they emphasized hands-on training, designed by sailors for sailors. That’s
what we do here at Fremont Maritime, we recognize that sailors don’t like
sitting in class getting all their learning from books.”
Capt. Kjaerulff holds a US Coast Guard-issued license as
Master of inspected vessels to 1,600 tons, and Chief Mate of inspected vessels
of any tons. He is a 1983 graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings
Point, NY, and has sailed as captain and licensed ship’s officer on a variety of
civilian and naval vessels operating in numerous trades all over the world.
He founded Fremont Maritime Services to provide safety and
survival training to mariners sailing in Alaska and along the Pacific Coast.
“My primary focus was the Alaska fishing fleet,”
said Kjaerulff. “I couldn’t believe people would be foolish enough to go
into the Bering Sea and not know anything about survival. They had a fatalistic
approach that they could learn when the situation was forced upon them.
Fremont Maritime’s first fishing vessel safety program was
the Survival Afloat Seminar, which was specifically designed to provide
training to crews of fishing vessels under 100 feet.
This program delivered packaged training programs directly
to the vessel and crew, using actual equipment and training aids to make the
training more realistic. In September of 1992, the Survival Afloat Seminar
became the first program approved by the Coast Guard as meeting the fishing
vessel Drill Conductor training requirements of 46 CFR §28.270 (a) and (c).
A major boost to Fremont Maritime’s growth came in the
mid-1990s when the company was contracted by the State of California to provide
safety training to fishermen in Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Pedro
and San Diego.
About that same time, Fremont Maritime partnered with
Seattle Maritime Academy from 1994 through 2001, and then moved its fire
training facilities to their current location next to the Foss shipyard in
The new facilities included the construction of the M/V Fire
Dragon, a 135-foot mock-up of a ship made from a combination of WWII ship parts
and shipping containers. The Fire Dragon allows students to confront most if
not all the firefighting scenarios they may encounter aboard a real ship, from
the engine and pump rooms to the helicopter pad. Propane burners provide
instant fire and heat, with temperatures reaching up to 1,000 degrees
Fahrenheit, while smoke generators provide the very real aspect of low and no
visibility that makes firefighting even more hazardous.
“When we added the firefighting school, we wanted to
create a unique identity so people would remember it,” said Kjaerulff.
“We decided that India Tango would fit – it means ‘I am on fire’ in the
International Code of Signals.”
The India Tango Firefighting School has become one of the
most respected programs of its type in the world. It is the only civilian
school trusted by the US Navy to teach its firefighting curricula to active
duty military personnel. The US Coast Guard has used India Tango to train cutter
crews and Marine Inspection Office personnel from across the United States.
Many US-flag vessel operators use India Tango exclusively to prepare their
crews to prevent, combat, and extinguish fire aboard their ships.
Fremont Maritime has continued to grow steadily, both in
terms of courses offered as well as clients. Captain Kjaerulff has expanded the
school’s curriculum to include classes addressing all aspects of shipboard
safety and emergency response, Fremont Maritime’s courses are based upon the guidelines
of the US Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organization.
Thousands of professional mariners and military personnel
annually attend open enrollment programs covering First Aid, Sea Survival, and
Basic and Advanced Shipboard Fire Fighting as well as custom programs for
towing, fishing, and passenger vessel operators looking to refresh safety and
emergency skills, and address specific company and customer training needs.
Anti-piracy workshops are a recent addition to Fremont
Maritime’s curriculum – the one day classes cover vessel security duties,
including maintaining situation awareness, understanding threats and what to do
if a watchkeeper sees a situation developing.
Fremont Maritime’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of the
maritime industry. Besides the US Navy and the Coast Guard, Fremont Maritime
clients include Trident Seafoods, American Seafoods, Holland America Line,
NOAA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Foss Maritime, Crowley Marine
Services and many others.
Fremont Maritime Services grew again in January of 2012 when
it opened a new maritime training center, located in Seattle’s Fishermen’s
Terminal. The state of the art facility provides mariners an exceptional
training environment, with two brand-new classrooms that are more than twice as
large as those at Fremont’s previous facility. The new school is equipped with
large flat-screen monitors, in rooms filled with training aids provided by
manufacturers and suppliers.
The new center is popular with Fremont Maritime’s mariner
clientele – it has exceptional views of Fishermen’s Terminal’s working docks,
watercraft, and the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial. Fremont’s students enjoy a
number of amenities during breaks, as well as before and after class. For
dining they can choose from four restaurants, and within a 100-foot perimeter
they can pick up necessities in the minimart, get a haircut, do laundry, and
even take a shower after class before that long drive or flight home.
Captain Kjaerulff does not want anyone to think that new and
larger accommodations mean that his school is losing its disciplined edge or
his fervor for the gospel of safety at sea has cooled. He is still very much in
favor of realistic, hands-on training.
“It’s about so much more than just sitting in a room long
enough to get a certificate,” he says. “Students learn more, and are
more engaged when you provide them a clean and comfortable training
environment. We are already highly regarded for our training content; now we’ll
be known as the most comfortable place to go to school, too.
“The whole idea behind STCW (Standards for Training and
Certification of Watchkeepers) was so the trainee could demonstrate real
competency,” said Kjaerulff. “In many cases, it has become more about
the piece of paper than the competency – too many people have the certification
who don’t have any hands-on experience.”
Captain Jon Kjaerulff feels so strongly about the importance
of reality-based, hands on marine safety training that he wrote an article
about the subject.
“No single maritime nation has the monopoly on
conscientious and qualified vessel operating companies and Mariners,” he
wrote in the article, titled ‘Purity versus Progress’. “Indeed,
professionalism can be found on vessels flying virtually any national ensign or
shipping company house flag. The STCW Conventions and Treaties were not
developed in response to the nations and companies who operate their vessels
under the highest of standards. The provisions of STCW 78 and 95 were
necessitated by the actions of operators who consistently sought out and
operated at or below the lowest levels of cost and compliance.
That article was written more than ten years ago – Captain
Kjaerulff insists it is just as valid today as when it was written.
“Certification without training results in only the
illusion of standards. Light-handed enforcement is in fact no enforcement at
all. When demonstrations of competence give way to demonstrations in
box-checking, “formsmanship” takes precedence over seamanship,”
Kjaerulff says.
“Mariners refine and improve many of their technical
skills on a regular basis and achieve high levels of Wcompetence through
repeated opportunities for practice. Skills such as shiphandling, navigation,
and machinery repair are regular parts of the shipboard routine. Emergency
response skills, however, are often discussed, sometimes rehearsed, but rarely
put to the test.
He adds, “Today in many cases, the emphasis of training
has shifted from demonstrations of competence into demonstrations of
compliance. Having the knowledge is considered less important than having the
proper paperwork. Certification is equated with, or given priority over
qualification. The long-term ramifications of this focus are quite alarming.”
Kjaerulff defines Fremont Maritime’s mission as making sure
the thousands of mariners who pass through the institute’s courses come out
competent as well as certified. He does not want any of his graduates to have
to learn how to pull the lanyard on the life raft when they end up in the
frigid waters of the Bering Sea.