Robots, chainsaws and the future of maritime: Egypt’s IMarEST student members are learning by doing

Want to inspire the next generation of marine professionals? A Robo Pirate Boat Competition is proving a hit in Egypt…

Spring 2023 saw Egypt’s aspiring marine engineers put their skills to the test in a battle to the death. Or, more accurately, their Robo Pirate Boats, armed with chainsaws, fire and water jets, took to the pool at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport in Alexandria in armed combat to see which design would emerge victorious. 

In the end, simplicity won out. The victorious team, The Brethren Court, had a simple boat design, with a rotating, fork-like steel weapon and agile manoeuvring. 

“The design was successful because of its small size, which made it easy to manoeuvre,” said Miral Armanious, now in her final year at the Academy and chair of the local IMarEST Student Section, which runs workshops to let the students learn from managers and operational-level experts working in Egypt’s maritime industry.

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The Shark-like boat was awarded best design (credit: AASTMT)

The competition also awarded prizes to the teams with the best design (the Sharks, with their shark-like boat with amazing details), the best stability (the Marine Devils, whose high buoyancy boat could carry almost 200 kg), the best weapons (The Wrecking Crew, who deployed steel arrows and airbags) and the best safety (The Sea Warriors, because of the measures they took to ensure the safe operation of their fire weapon).

“It was a great experience because it pulled together students from different departments,” explained Miral. “The competition was very successful and we learned how to create a complete boat system using an integration of mechanical, electrical and computer engineering. It also created a spirit of cooperation between the teams, who were eager to help each other regardless of anything.”

There are plans to run the competition again next semester because of the positive response from the students. “We're very excited since there still is room for improvement,” she said. 

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Miral Armanious, chair of the local IMarEST student branch (credit: AASTMT)

As we approach International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June, Miral acknowledged that she is one of “a very small number” of women studying marine engineering at the Academy, and she’s keen to get more women involved. “You don’t have to work at sea, there are so many other roles,” she said. “This course opens a lot of opportunities.”

Miral has herself worked at sea, on a roro passenger ferry operating between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. “Careers at sea today are very different from how they used to be, with modern machinery and automation changing the physicality of the role,” she pointed out. 

Her interest in the industry was sparked while studying at one of Egypt’s specialist STEM schools, designed to get students involved in science and technology from a young age. “I went to the Red Sea STEM school in Hurghada and it made me familiar with research from a very young age,” she said, noting that the purpose is to teach students how to apply scientific research and innovation to solve the challenges facing Egypt today, from energy infrastructure to water treatment. 

And while she’s fascinated by the maritime industry, Miral noted that the course opens doors to many other career paths. “It’s not just shipping but also offshore jobs, such as oil and gas,” she said. “There are so many opportunities, particularly as there are skills shortages in these industries.” 

Until then, there’s another Robo Pirate Boat competition to organise…


Amy McLellan is a journalist and author. She was previously editor of Energy Day. Twitter  @AmyMcLellan2