A keel laying ceremony Friday in Philadelphia marked the start of construction for a new class of up to five new purpose-built training vessels for U.S. maritime academies, replacing aging ships with the National Security Multimission Vessels or NSMVs.

Philly Shipyard Inc. is building the first vessel, destined for the State University of New York Maritime College, under management by TOTE Services for delivery in 2023. Along with training future U.S. mariners the 524'5"x88'7"x55' ships will support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in U.S. waters and abroad in emergencies.

“Today’s first NSMV keel laying is a critical milestone in an innovative effort that is producing state-of-the-art vessels in an American shipyard that will both train the next generation of American mariners and provide a new disaster response capability for the nation,” acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley said in a joint statement with TOTE Services. “We commend everyone who is working hard to keep this effort on schedule and on budget, and we look forward to the final delivery of the first ship.”

“As part of shipbuilding tradition, the keel laying ceremony invites good luck in the construction and life of a ship as the first prefabricated block is lowered into the building dock,” said Steinar Nerbovik, president and CEO of Philly Shipyard. “Today, represents a momentous achievement in U.S. maritime education and a significant investment in the local economy and job creation.”

The NSMVs will have instructional spaces, a full training bridge, and accommodations for up to 600 cadets to train in a maritime academic environment at sea.

SUNY and other state maritime academies graduate more than half of all new merchant officers each year. The Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration selected TOTE Services to be the vessel construction manager for the NSMV program in May 2019 to ensure the utilization of best practices in commercial ship construction.

In April 2020, TOTE Services awarded Philly Shipyard a contract to construct up to five NSMVs. These ships will be owned and operated by Marad.

“TOTE Services’ contract with Marad demonstrates a new acquisition process to federal shipbuilding, where the government benefits from commercial best practices to design and construct vessels that are built by union labor in a U.S. shipyard with U.S.-made steel and U.S.-made engines,” said TOTE Services President Jeff Dixon. “Our aim is straight – we’re committed to the success of this program and to delivering these vessels for MARAD, so that our future cadets have the modern training platforms they deserve.”

Congress appropriated funding to replace aging training vessels at SUNY Maritime College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Maine Maritime Academy and Texas A&M Maritime Academy, respectively. TOTE Services retains an option for building a fifth NSMV for the California State University Maritime Academy, if additional funding is appropriated by Congress.

"This historic maritime event is the realization of a vision many years in the making made possible by the partnership between the State Maritime Academy Presidents, the Department of Transportation, the Maritime Administration, and Members of Congress," said rear Adm. Michael Alfultis, SUNY Maritime’s president. "I am grateful to each of them for their efforts and support of this essential program that will shape the maritime industry's future and improve the education of mariners to come. Our cadets look forward to learning and training on this state-of-the-art vessel."

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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