SHIPPING Minister Mike Penning has praised the work of a Wirral-based maritime engineering training company during a visit to the northwest.

During the visit to Mersey Maritime Engineering College, Mr Penning met maritime industry representatives and discussed how the private sector can help lead the economic recovery of Merseyside.

The minister was in the North West to meet with council and business leaders as part of a packed schedule to hear at first hand how ambitious plans for the sector will boost Liverpool's ongoing renaissance as the UK's most centrally located port.

Mr Penning also discussed the work of Mersey Maritime Group in working with schools and colleges to promote and provide career paths into the industry.

He was then treated to a demonstration of the organisation's 'Quay Skills' training simulators involving pupils from The Mosslands School in Wallasey, which has partnered with Mersey Maritime Group to encourage young people to explore training and careers in the maritime sector.

Following his visit, Mr Penning said: "I was delighted to receive an invitation to see the excellent training facilities at the Maritime Engineering College in Birkenhead for myself.

"Students here are trained to the highest standards on state-of-the-art equipment, which is essential if the UK is to keep producing the best maritime experts in the world.

"I congratulate both the staff and the students on their commitment to excellence."

Mersey Maritime Group chief executive Jim Teasdale said: "We are encouraged by Mr Penning's visit and the fact that he wanted to see for himself how Mersey Maritime works on behalf of the cluster. Shipping and ports are vital not only to this region but to the UK as a whole.

"Merseyside's maritime industry is a centre of excellence and we want to see that continue to grow, creating further wealth and jobs for the region.

"The role of the government in recognising and supporting us in achieving this is vital to its future success."

There are currently 250 apprentices at Mersey Maritime Group, with a similar number of pre-apprenticeship learners. Since 2007 more than 4,000 staff from 250 maritime companies have benefited from workforce development initiatives offered by the Group.