AT HOME, they learned to navigate by the stars. But after six weeks in Australia learning to handle commercial vessels, 12 young men from Papua New Guinea can also steer by GPS, if need be.The men are in Australia to obtain their coxswain’s ticket to work on motor vessels, in a program sponsored by their local MP for Kimbe Island, Francis Marus.All 12 men took their on-water exam with NSW Maritime at Rozelle this week. It will give them an internationally recognised qualification to operate small commercial vessels or crew larger ones.They hope to gain skilled jobs transporting cargo or equipment for the PNG government or the burgeoning mining industry back home.The 12 students, aged 20 to 25, were selected from a large field of hopefuls to come to Sydney. Their MP, Mr Marus, who is also Deputy Speaker of the PNG parliament, sponsored the trip.Their training in Sydney and Newcastle was supervised by Eric McCarthy from the NSW Fishing Industry Training Committee.”It’s been a wonderful experience. They’re super people, some of the best students I’ve ever had,” Mr McCarthy said.Gaining the certificate was an issue of self-determin-ation. ”They want to see the jobs over there go to them, not to somebody from another country,” he said.Still, not all the training was strictly relevant. ”We were practising going in and out of jetties, and one guy said ‘Why are we doing this? We don’t have any jetties, we just go up on the beach’,” Mr McCarthy said. ”I said, you’ve got me there.”Mathias Loi, 23, hopes to become the skipper of a boat when he returns home to Kimbe Island, also known as West New Britain, which is off the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea. The exam would ”test our skills on handling and manoeuvring the vessels in rough weather, in the ocean, safety precautions and the safety of passengers on board,” Mr Loi said. ”Everything we need to know.”In his home town, unemployment is very high and most skilled jobs are taken by foreigners, he said. The NSW certification would give them all the opportunity for a better job.”They’ve been looking after us very well, especially that bloke over there, Eric, he’s like a father to us,” Mr Loi said.The trip is the first time the men have left their country. Mr Loi was missing home, and feeling the cold, but Jeremy Iko, 22, also from Kimbe Island, loved being in Sydney. ”It’s very great, I’m feeling grateful for being here,” he said. ”One day I want to come back.”
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