IT began on September 15, 1980 as the Jamaica Maritime Training Institute, then opening its doors to 16 students eager for a career in the maritime industry. Two decades later, it would be renamed the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI) after expanding both its student intake and course offerings over the years.
Originally sited on Norman Road, in the vicinity of the Central Sorting Office in Kingston, the institute was established under a joint venture project by the governments of Jamaica and Norway, as a tertiary institution specialising in maritime education and training for professional seafarers and allied industry personnel.
At the time, its main objective was to train and supply the Jamaican merchant marines - a shipping fleet of four owned by the Jamaican government - with young officers.
By the time science lecturer Wayne Williams started teaching at the institute in 1983, the student population had grown by 10 to 26 students - 13 pursuing the marine engineering discipline and 13 pursuing naval-ordered nautical training.
"There were, at that time, mainly male students. In the initial batch, we had only two females - one who was a deck officer and the other was a marine engineer. It was a very small institution providing specialised and highly technical training," Williams tells JIS News.
In 1985, the school was moved to its present location at Palisadoes Park, flanked by the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club on one side and Gun Boat Beach on the other.
The student body began to multiply, the academic staff grew and the school's curriculum 'mushroomed' to include new ratings programmes for lower level entrants in the shipping industry.
The institute also partnered with the HEART Trust/NTA to provide training for the multi-purpose rating programmes in the early 1990s.
"We then started to branch off to give allied training for persons in the maritime industry who are not going to go to sea, or who require skills relating to shipping and the business aspects of shipping," said Williams.
"We ventured into that area through an alliance with Pacific Maritime Training Institute (PMTI), now a campus of the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Canada."
However, despite its best efforts, the institute was forced to confront the challenge of practical experience for trainees.
"In the initial stages, resources were not a problem, but the ability to place and get the cadets on board vessels to acquire 'sea time' on a timely basis was challenging," said Williams, now CMI director of administration and finance.
Additionally, "finding competent persons to join the staff as lecturers" represented another hurdle.
"We did not have qualified seafarers who would be able to join the staff of the institute as experienced persons in the shipping industry, so initially the Norwegians had to get these trained personnel through a counterpart system.
We selected students in whom we saw potential (and), accelerated their sea services training so that they could join the staff upon completion of their certification," said the CMI executive.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Rodriguez, who joined JMTI in 1990 as executive director, also remembers the early days.
At that time, there were 64 registered students and the institute was catering primarily to the professional seafaring group of deck officers - responsible for navigation, loading ships and safety - and marine engineers.
"At that time, we were training from cadets up to master mariners and chief engineers at the class 1 certificate of competency level," said Rodriguez.
While the professional marine programmes were then core areas in the maritime institute's curriculum, other subject areas were developed to provide qualified and certified persons for the land-based shipping industry.
In 1992, the multipurpose rating course, which is offered in collaboration with HEART Trust/NTA, was added to the school's syllabus.
"Those enrolled in that course currently go through a five-month programme, where they have both the discipline of steering the ship; cleaning the ship - what we call ship husbandry, which is chipping and painting; use of power tools; and also basic engineering in terms of welding and basic diesel engine principles," said the commander.
Two years later, the Diploma in International Shipping and Logistics was developed in collaboration with PMTI.
Then, in 1996, the associate of applied science degree in industrial systems, operations and maintenance was introduced in collaboration with the University of Technology (UTech).
This course of study is geared towards the land-based industry with maritime interface such as the ports and ships.
The curriculum was further broadened to include diploma programmes in transport and logistics, and marine engineering and the certificate of competency in navigation and marine engineering for ship officers and a number of other specialised and customised courses for the shipping and allied industries.
On January 4, 1993, the JMTI was enshrined as a statutory body under the Jamaica Maritime Institute Act (1992).
In 2001, it was renamed the CMI and has linkages regionally.
According to Rodriguez, the name change reflected the 'regional character' of the student population, and courses offered.
It also facilitated expansion of the membership of the institute's board of directors to include representatives from maritime and/or other trade associations across the region.
Notwithstanding its advances over the 25 years of its existence, the CMI, with plans to stay on top of the competition, has been retooling.
The University Council of Jamaica has accredited two of the CMI's core programmes - the Diploma in International Shipping and Logistics, and the Associate of Applied Science Degree in Industrial Systems, Operations and Maintenance - and the institution itself is currently undergoing International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification for quality assurance.
The institute itself is also restructuring to 'flatten' its management structure and fine-tuning its programmes to put out better quality maritime professionals.
"We are doing the things that keep us on a path of improvement for the next 25 years, and expanding in the region, providing all the services that the shipping industry would like us to provide," said Rodriguez.
"We'll watch where the trends are going and then we provide the services required by the industry."
The CMI now has an enrollment of 394, provides professional maritime education and training to seafarers, the regional shipping industry, coast guards, maritime administrations and allied industries.
It has linkages with the University of the West Indies (UWI), UTech and the World Maritime Institute, the BCIT and the Norwegian Shipping Academy.