Napoleon once described the port of Antwerp as a dagger that he would aim at the heart of England. Today, the city's maritime activities remain important after the establishment of a world-class university for maritime training.
Seven years ago, Belgian businessman Sir Paul Buysse proposed a University Institute of Transport and Maritime Management (ITMMA). Sir Paul, chairman of the local chamber of commerce, brought together businessmen and academics from two of Antwerp's then three universities, Ruca (the Central University of Antwerp) and the UFSIA (University Faculties of St Ignatius in Antwerp).
The move answered a recognised need from port and terminal authorities around the world to have personnel trained to a reliable standard. It also answered Antwerp's desire to create a niche for itself.
Jean-Claude van Gelder, spokesman for the institute, said: "In our backyard we found we had a huge cargo of expertise."
The ITMMA finally came into being in 1996, but it has not found itself without competition. In Malmo, Sweden, the World Maritime University offers similar postgraduate courses but all places are funded by the European Union. The ITMMA has always looked to the international market place for its students.
"This year, out of a class of 30, we have students from 17 countries, including Cuba, Panama, Nigeria, China, and Vietnam," Mr van Gelder said. "Most have to find the E7,440 (Pounds 4,500) fee themselves, or rather their employers do, although there is an annual Asian scholarship given by the Antwerp-based transport group Ahlers for anyone applying from a country into which they wish to expand operations."
Students must have a university degree and must have spent three years in relevant operational activities, which means that it is not uncommon for the institute to have sea captains on its books. Class size is limited to 30 students because the institute prides itself on the interactive nature of its teaching. The programme lasts a year and is divided into 12 courses.
There are a total of four core transport courses - maritime economics, port economics, transport economics and a transport policy workshop - plus three core strategic management courses - logistics, management tools and structural changes in the world economy.
Five other courses have to be chosen from a list of 11 topics, which include such subjects as airport and airline economics, terminal management and environmental economics.
Since the ITMMA was founded, Antwerp's two participating universities have come together with the University Institute of Antwerp to form one confederate university spread over a number of campuses. However, Sir Paul's original deal that the ITMMA would alternate between Ruca and the UFSIA still holds sway.
This means that having enjoyed four years at the Middelheimlaan campus to the south of Antwerp, the ITMMA should strictly now move in its entirety to the UFSIA in the heart of Antwerp.
A compromise has been proposed whereby the ITMMA stays on the Ruca campus but is administered from Prinstraat, the home of the UFSIA.
The institute is financially independent of the university and balances its books thanks to a raft of sponsors.