In researching an upcoming story on the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., I listened to a talk given on Aug. 11 by the acting Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen to a group of KP graduates and parents in Baltimore.
He said the future is “anything but certain” for young people entering the merchant marine, as the industry is moving in new directions. “A tale of four cities” is how he described it.
In the Great Lakes, business is “steady,” he said. Not great, but holding its own. “Not much growth, but not much decline.”
Along the nation’s inland waterways, things are “going like crazy.” There’s a five-year wait at shipyards to build new barges, and the current fleet is busy moving all kinds of stuff around the rivers.
It’s the same thing in the offshore market. “Going like crazy” there, too, he said, pushed along by the vibrant petroleum industry.
Now the bad news: a deep drop in U.S.-flagged vessels working in foreign trade. The number of U.S. ships has declined from 450 vessels 10 years ago, to less than 230 today.
This means that jobs in bluewater are shrinking, while jobs in brownwater and offshore are growing. And this means that mariner education has to keep up with these changes, so that personnel have the skills demanded by the companies in these expanding sectors.
The maritime academies — five state and one federal — are ramping up or offering for the first time courses in brownwater and offshore operations USMMA, for example, has hired faculty with brownwater experience and developed three new elective courses in coastal and inland vessel operations that will be offered to this year’s entering class of 2017. The academy is also installing a dynamic positioning system in its training ship that is used in offshore vessels.
The tug and barge industry has a role to play in assuring that these schools produce licensed officers skilled in inland navigation. Many companies recruit at the schools and offer internships and scholarships to students, and industry officials have conferred with state and federal academies about curriculum development.
Others have donated tugs and provided money to buy simulators. Bouchard Transportation just announced a $750,000 donation to SUNY Maritime College in New York to establish a tug-and-barge simulation center.
With an aging workforce and busy boats, it’s in the industry’s best interest to support such initiatives. Hands-on experience for young cadets (and of course big salaries) are the best recruiting tools in the industry’s arsenal.