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Students carry out essential repairs for ship’s medical mission to Madagascar

The Island Reach is almost ready to set sail after Coleg Llandrillo’s Marine Engineering learners refurbished one of its generators, also volunteering with other repairs

Coleg Llandrillo students carried out essential repairs on a hospital ship set for a humanitarian mission to Madagascar.

The Island Reach, owned by Christian charity ‘Youth With a Mission’ (YWAM), will head to the African island in April to provide much-needed medical aid.

One of its main purposes will be to provide dental care, with only one dentist for every 150,000 people in the most remote parts of Madagascar.

An ex-Naval supply ship, the Island Reach is well-suited for travelling up rivers and small inlets, meaning it can reach communities which are extremely difficult to get to via other forms of transport.

The 24-metre vessel has been fitted with a fully equipped dental suite, doctor’s consultation area, well-stocked pharmacy and dispensing area, eye examination and surgical unit, and cabins for medical staff.

It is currently moored in Conwy, where it has been completely overhauled by volunteers, including students and staff from Coleg Llandrillo’s Marine Engineering department.

Alistair Cook, Sarah Langton, Aled Hills, Jack Davies and Ellie Jones, who were studying Marine Engineering Level 2 and 3, got involved after YWAM approached the college for help.

James Lehane, Workshop Practical Skills Instructor in the Marine Engineering department, said: “When we were first introduced to the boat, they came to us with a problem with one of the generators.

"We removed the generator engine from the ship and brought it back to college. It was then inspected and refurbished as necessary. We then returned the engine to the ship where the students helped reinstall it and continued to be involved in other aspects of the ship's restoration and conversion.

“Jack and Aled in particular got really involved in volunteering on the boat, helping with painting and other things. They’ve had a steel superstructure built on it and all that needed cleaning and painting, as well as all the decks, so whatever they’ve been able to do they’ve been helping out with.”

The ship’s captain, Jeremy McWilliam, said: “MV Island Reach based in Conwy Harbour was very grateful for the help and support it received from Llandrillo College for the refit of the vessel into a humanitarian medical facility bound for Madagascar in April this year.

“We would like to thank the marine engineering department for their assistance in removing one of our generators, servicing and repairing it in the college facility - in addition to this, returning the generator and refitting it to the vessel where it is now working well.

“Students from the college also assisted with many smaller jobs in the ship's engine room, carrying out servicing, cleaning and repair jobs. Should we moor any more of our vessels in Conwy we very much look forward to continuing this working relationship.”

YWAM are planning to sail the Island Reach from Conwy to Madagascar on April 9. Donations can be made to the project in several ways via

The students who worked on the ship have since left the college, and have gone to rewarding careers with organisations such as BP and the Merchant Navy. One of the students, Ellie Jones, is now studying Ocean Sciences at Bangor University.

James Lehane said: “All our marine students have the opportunity for great careers because the industry’s crying out for employees, and we’re supplying them. When our students apply for cadetships, the people who interview them are often people who have been on or who know our course.

“On top of the City & Guilds qualifications, we also run RYA courses, so our students are getting powerboat qualifications, sailing, navigation - so they’ve got most of the knowledge to go straight into the Merchant Navy.

“If they go into the Merchant Navy on a cadetship, they’re paid while they’re trained by the shipping lines. So they don’t have any university student debt, and once they come out of that they could be 20 years old and on the best part of around £40,000 a year.

"So great is the need in the industry that demand heavily outstrips the supply of trained personnel, thus giving many fantastic opportunities for a range of careers in the sector."

Want to work in Marine Engineering? Click here to find out more about Grŵp Llandrillo Menai’s Marine Technology courses.