For the second year in a row, the federal budget enacted by Congress included $300 million for the Maritime Administration (MarAd) to commission a new training vessel, this one to replace the aging T/S Kennedy at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
The first national security multi-mission vessel (NSMV), funded by the fiscal year 2018 budget, will replace T/S Empire State VI at the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College. Three more NSMVs will follow for academies in Maine, Texas and California.
“Great Lakes (Maritime Academy) has been a part of the conversation lockstep, but it’s their feeling that for the next decade, up there on the fresh water, they’re not in the position that they’re in need of an NSMV,” said Rear Adm. Francis McDonald, president of Mass. Maritime.
The six state maritime academies use the ships to train cadets. In addition, the federal government often assigns the ships to assist with cleanup and recovery efforts following natural disasters.
In 2015, MarAd commissioned a design for the new NSMV class to fulfill these dual roles. A request for proposal (RFP) process was initiated, and the agency expects to choose a vessel construction manager for the project by this summer. Following that, MarAd will award the shipyard contract before the end of the calendar year, with delivery of the first two ships expected in FY 2022 and FY 2023.
“As you can imagine, to say it’s strategically very important is an incredible understatement,” McDonald said. “The training ship program is the linchpin of the education model we operate under, but we’re training on vessels that sometimes don’t meet safety standards or current environmental standards, or that aren’t representative of what’s truly out in the industry today. … This NSMV program will stabilize the training of mariners for the next 40 years in this country.”
The average age of ships in the academy fleet is about 38 years old. The 57-year-old Empire State VI is the oldest.
The 52-year-old Kennedy began life as the break-bulk freighter Velma Lykes, built at Avondale Industries in New Orleans in 1967. After MarAd acquired the ship in 1985, it served the federal government for almost two decades as Cape Bon. That service included several tours to the Persian Gulf in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.
In 2003, MarAd sent Cape Bon to Bender Ship Repair in Mobile, Ala., for the freighter to be converted to a training ship. Renamed T/S Enterprise, it was assigned to Mass. Maritime to replace T/S Patriot State. Following a $10 million refurbishment in 2009, the vessel was renamed again to honor the Kennedy family.
The six state maritime academies use the training ships for “sea terms” that last between 45 and 90 days. Cadets rotate through onboard classes and laboratory training sessions, learning about ship operations, deck and engine watches, emergency drills and maintenance.
“These vessels are federal vessels at ready reserve status, ready to be deployed for federal use in a matter of days,” McDonald said.
Kennedy, joined by ships from SUNY Maritime and Texas Maritime, served in relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012 and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017. Cadets are not involved in relief missions; the academies excuse staff familiar with vessels from their day jobs, who join crew hired by the government through a maritime contract.
“The six state maritime academies have been working collaboratively with MarAd for over a decade on this (NSMV) project,” McDonald said. “With the leadership in Washington right now … we were able to push this over the line and get it rolling.”