Trump budget would fund refurbed ships at two state academies

The Trump administration is proposing to spend $300 million to replace aging training ships at New York and Massachusetts maritime academies, according to the fiscal 2019 budget released in Washington last week.

These won’t be brand new vessels, as the schools had hoped, but will be refurbished commercial ships that will be far younger than the current training vessels and contain more modern onboard equipment, engines and amenities.

The Empire State VI at SUNY Maritime College in Fort Schulyer, N.Y., and the TS Kennedy at Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, Mass., are the oldest training vessels among the six maritime schools, at ages 56 and 52 respectively. The average age of all school ships is 35, and most are powered by obsolete steam engines that no longer meet U.S. emission standards.

The TS Kennedy is the Massachusetts Maritime Academy training vessel. MMA photo.

The TS Kennedy is the Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s training vessel. MMA photo.

In the past, the schools have been assigned ships that are part of the Maritime Administration’s National Defense Reserve Fleet. They are refurbished at a U.S. shipyard and resume new lives as academy training ships, where merchant marine cadets earn the sea hours necessary for their Coast Guard licenses. The ships are also put into service during national disasters, as was the case after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Sandy, Harvey and Maria.

But there are currently no ships available from the defense reserve fleet, so the Maritime Administration (Marad) will search for two vessels on the international market.

“We will be casting a wide net worldwide in our search,” Adm. Mark Buzby, Marad administrator, told WorkBoat in an interview. “We’ll be looking for a U.S. vessel or a foreign-flag vessel that could meet our requirements.”

He said the international market is flush with a large number of vessels for sale, and the average age is 15 years old. Buzby said the vessel must be in the 500-foot range and able to carry 600 people. Ocean ferries, heavy lift ships and tankers would be suitable ship types.

Buzby said Marad is currently working with the state schools to draw up a set of criteria for a modified training ship, including agreement on size, draft and configuration, among other elements. Marad will hold an “industry day,” to which brokers, shipyards and repairers will be invited to discuss the requirements.

“Ideally we’d like to get sister ships, which would simplify the refurbishing,”said Buzby, a former Navy rear admiral.

The Marad administrator said that if Congress approves the funds this year and the refurbishing is finished on schedule, the first training ship could be delivered in late 2019 or early 2020.

Buying used vessels puts on hold — at least for now — the concept floated a few years ago of building national security multimission vessels (NSMV) for the five state academies. These would be purpose-built training ships with the latest technologies that would allow for the standardization of maritime education and make it easier to find spare parts. Cost for all five NSMVs would be about $1 billion.

“We still have the NSMV design and there’s a high degree of interest in it on Capitol Hill,” Buzby said. But until Congress can come up with the money, buying used ships would be the quickest way to replace the two very old training vessels. “The NSMV option is still out there, but for the moment, this puts us in a good place to get substantially newer ships than we have now,” he said.

Meanwhile, Buzby said Marad continues to make many changes at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y. Renovations of barracks is complete, and a project will start soon to transform Samuels Hall into a world class simulator center. The USMMA alumni association has donated $4 million to rebuilt an athletic field. Efforts are underway to “expand and energize” the academy’s curriculum that covers navigation on the inland waterways, and Buzby added that a few towing companies are helping to strengthen inland instruction.

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About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

10 Comments

  1. Russell Desmond on

    And we raised eyebrows at the El Faro and her age. We are sending our kids to sea to train on these old wrecks.
    I trained on the USS Ancon a command ship used in the Pacific for amphibious landings.
    That was the training ship at Maine Maritime Academy back in 73 when I went there.
    You could take a chipping hammer and knock a hole right through what you were suppose to be chipping so it could be covered up with red hand and another coat of paint!

  2. $1B is a lot of money, but why spend a third of that to buy only two used vessels and countless more $$$ to keep them in good repair? Instead, apply the $300M toward the total cost of building national security multi-mission vessels (NSMV) for the five state academies. Like the article said, then we could standardize a state-of-the-art training curriculum and have a nice mini-fleet of modern, technologically up-to-date vessels that could be used as a contingency in any national security or national disaster event.

    J. Berg, Mass Maritime Academy ’91

    • Generaly speaking buying and converting an existing ship is a quicker and more cost effective COA ship procurement. $300 million can get us more hulls quicker.
      New built ships are far more expensive and a long ways off.

  3. Oleksandr Dmytruk on

    In my opinion US maritime industry is at its end. None of the maritime academies offer any decent curriculum. The steam vessels mentioned in the article do disservice to future mariners. They are outdated and don’t teach about modern equipment as well as instrumentation. Currently, the only life line to the whole industry is US Navy and Federal spending. Aside from that, the US merchant fleet doesn’t exist. So we can question the purpose of these academies too. They are still a good source for training if you’re planning to be a power plant engineer in an industrial installation that offers training. The least politicians can do is build those 5 new vessels instead of blowing up 1 billion on US Navy’s wastefulness.

    • The funding amounts can be questioned, however the value of the maritime schools is unquestionable. Mr. Dmytruk, your perspective is apperently outside looking in, I am guessing you are not as familiar with the US maritime industry as you believe you are. Yes, the foreign sailing US merchant fleet has structural issues this is noted by all, however the maritime industry in the USA is a large economic engine and it includes domestic shipping, offshore services, inland transportation, as well as shoreside support for many international companies. This economic engine requires diverse individuals, including people with merchant marine backgrounds. For this, Maritime Academies are our foundation.

      Leonard Hale

  4. I am a cadet at the Texas Maritime Academy and we have over 500 hundred students that need to ship out every summer on a training ship that only hold fifty so most of us have to go with other academy on their ships or not go at all and get behind on sea days. I urge you to look into it because we haven’t had a decent working ship that is big enough in almost a decade.

  5. Katie Moore Brown on

    Good morning,

    Texas prides itself on many things! A training ship is most needed at the Texas Maritime Academy Texas A & M University Galveston Texas. A training vessel that will have the capability of sailing abroad: in addition to the Gulf of Mexico. As a Mom who has funded such curricula: our experience of cruise had always consisted of another school’s vessel: Califonia Maritime & SUNY. I would ask our Congressmen to support the funding necessary to enable a training vessel 🚢 docked at Pelican Island to support and provide the educational requirement aboard Texas Maritime Academy training vessel. 2018 enrollment represents roughly 500 Cadets all requiring sea time for their curriculum based degrees.

  6. I’m a 1969 marine engineering graduate of SUNY Maritime College. We should integrate the training ship activities of all the Maritime Colleges, as well as Kings Point, and get new vessels. In 1969, our licenses were Steam and Motor, any horsepower. That covered every power plant that was sailing. All the vessels that I sailed were steam plants. Knowledge of steam is still required. All US submarines use steam. Most shore side power plants use steam. The new ships should have an up-to-date propulsion system (perhaps gas turbines and controllable pitch propellers), but training systems for diesel and steam systems should be included. Our deck graduates can chime in on their requirements. Got to start thinking as a large group. Hope we work it out, the training ship is what made our education unique and has allowed us to enjoy very successful careers.

  7. Jim Gompper on

    Texas A&M Maritime Academy has been without a viable training vessel for over a decade. The current excuse for a ship is not seaworthy and, if it could get under way, would only take 50 students. The end result is that our kids get at the end of the line and have to pay exorbitant prices for the privilege of riding another academy’s vessel. Yes, MARAD owns the ship and we share, but possession is 9/10 of the law and the Texas kids are being ill served.

    JP Gompper
    Maine Maritime Academy 89D
    Parent of Texas Maritime Academy 21E

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