A simulated success

Terry Roberts
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Technology Centre for Marine Simulation continues to make waves in marine sector

There's a light snow falling and the ocean swell rocks the ship's bridge gently from side to side.

Off in the near distance, a handful of vulnerable merchant ships plow through the water, their bows pointed toward Europe and their hulls filled with valuable war-fighting cargo.

Capt. Chris Hearn is the director of the Centre for Marine Simulation. Here, he operates the full motion, full mission ship bridge simulator during a simulated Second World War convoy. Note the merchant ship in the background.- Photo by Terry Roberts/The

There's a light snow falling and the ocean swell rocks the ship's bridge gently from side to side.

Off in the near distance, a handful of vulnerable merchant ships plow through the water, their bows pointed toward Europe and their hulls filled with valuable war-fighting cargo.

Looking aft, Newfoundland's rocky shoreline slowly fades as the Allied convoy steams eastward through dangerous waters.

It's 1943, and the Battle of the Atlantic is raging, and death and destruction could be behind every wave.

At the helm of the corvette - a small, lightly-armed warship - on this "Allied convoy" is Capt. Chris Hearn.

He's on the lookout for German U-boats, and it's not long before one appears, with its conning tower rising menacingly out of the water and waves sweeping over its deck.

In a desperate move to protect the convoy, Hearn manoeuvres the corvette onto a direct course with the attacker. The sound of the engines revving to full power fills the air. Moments later, the bridge rocks violently as the two vessels collide. Bells start clanging.

But there are no fires or reports of sailors overboard.

This is a simulation of a convoy from the Second World War, and it's taking place at the most comprehensive research and training facility for marine simulation in North America - the Centre for Marine Simulation, which is located at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University in St. John's.

And while Hearn, a native of Bay Bulls, is a real ship's captain, he's not a grizzled sea warrior. He's the centre's director.

"I guess you'd have to be there in the moment," he replies when asked what he might do if the situation was real.

Hearn is tall and fit, and looks like a fighter pilot from "Top Gun." He's also dynamic and very passionate about his work. He's part of the reason why the centre, combined with a cluster of other training and research institutions and businesses in the region, has grown into a world-renowned centre of excellence for ocean technology.

He says it's a fact that is lost on most people.

Under the radar

"It's not known in our own backyard," he says. He laments the fact that the maritime legacy in this province has been weakened, despite the fact the Marine Institute produces more deck and engineering officers - on a per capita basis - than any other institution in the country.

He notes that countries from all over are taking notice of the fact that no other place in the world can combine the harsh realities of the North Atlantic with leading-edge simulation technology and skilled personnel.

The centre opened in 1994 as a training centre for students preparing for careers in the marine industry. It's grown tremendously since then, and now works with industry on areas such as mission rehearsals, risk assessment, equipment testing and ship manoeuvering.

"If they have a problem in the offshore, they come to the centre and we try to solve it," says Maria Halfyard, manager of applied research and industrial projects at the centre.

By using one of the centre's suite of simulators, this type of work can be done in a safe, cost-effective environment, she adds.

The centre has also boosted its research and development efforts in recent years, focusing on areas such as ice management and ice navigation, and conducting human performance studies to determine how sailors are affected by fatigue and new technology.

Specialized training

Personnel from shipping and oil and gas companies also use the centre to do specialized training. Not so long ago, those personnel had to travel abroad for such training, says Halfyard.

"Over the last five years we've helped make offshore workers more prepared to work in their environment," Halfyard notes.

"We create the most realistic environments we can so they are prepared when they go out there."

The centre can simulate any ocean-going vessel, environment and situation. The simulated Second World War convoy, for example, was completed as a tribute to the Canadian Navy, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year.

The centre can also recreate the harshest of sea conditions, simulate fog, ice, hail and gale-force winds, and model any standard or emergency procedure.

The centrepiece is the full-motion, full-mission ship bridge simulator, a highly advanced machine that sits atop a hydraulic platform.

"It's the only one of its kind in the world. It's the one everybody wants to see," says Halfyard.

A group of students who toured the simulator this week raved about the experience, using words such as "awesome" and "incredible" as they exited the simulator.

Private sector users of the centre pay for the service, and the centre is now a revenue generating entity of the Marine Institute. The centre has also benefitted from increased funding from various levels of government and other private sources.

And Hearn sees a great future for the centre as shipping and economic activities increase in the Canadian Arctic, where the famed Northwest Passage is slowly opening as the ice recedes.

"The potential is huge," says Hearn.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Marine Institute, Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University, Canadian Navy

Geographic location: Europe, Newfoundland, North America St. John's Bay Bulls North Atlantic Northwest Passage

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Recent comments

  • B. B
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    This Simulator at the Marine Institute is not the only one of its kind in the world. according to what Halfyard states.
    Kongsberg recently supplied a 360° full motion full mission ship's bridge simulator to the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific - MAAP at Kamaya Point, Mariveles, Bataan Philippines.

    http://www.km.kongsberg.com/ks/web/nokbg0238.nsf/AllWeb/EEC90CB56B0EAF58C12575A6002FB01D?OpenDocument

  • darls
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Way to go Chis...you make all who know you proud...keep up the good work...

  • B. B
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    This Simulator at the Marine Institute is not the only one of its kind in the world. according to what Halfyard states.
    Kongsberg recently supplied a 360° full motion full mission ship's bridge simulator to the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific - MAAP at Kamaya Point, Mariveles, Bataan Philippines.

    http://www.km.kongsberg.com/ks/web/nokbg0238.nsf/AllWeb/EEC90CB56B0EAF58C12575A6002FB01D?OpenDocument

  • darls
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Way to go Chis...you make all who know you proud...keep up the good work...