U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Tuesday that the Maritime Administration has struck a deal with NASA to convert a former space shuttle rocket booster recovery ship into the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s new training ship.
The agreement, signed today by the Department of Transportation and NASA, outlines plans for the transfer of the M/V Liberty Star to USMMA following some shipyard work to increase onboard berthing and full conversion to a training vessel.
“Securing this modern vessel supports the goals outlined in the Academy’s new strategic plan and will ensure our midshipmen get the top-notch education and training they need to compete and win in a competitive global marketplace,” said Secretary LaHood.
MARAD came under intense scrutiny in December when it was revealed the department reassigned USMMA’s former training ship, the T/V King’s Pointer, to Texas A&M, leaving the Nation’s only federal maritime academy without a training ship. A big deal in and of itself, but even bigger since the Academy was already reeling from a fallout of its top leaders and the closing of GMATS, a self-funded professional training organization located on the King’s Point campus.
“This past April, when we toured the Academy, I asked for three things and today we are batting 3 for 3,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer. “We have a new superintendent in place, we were able to increase capital funding in the senate appropriations bill and now we have a new training vessel on its way.
“We are righting this ship not only for the midshipmen currently attending, but for the generations of students who will come. The Merchant Marine Academy is getting back on course and I commend Secretary LaHood for his hard work, hearing our call and delivering promptly,” added Senator Schumer.
Like all other Maritime Administration reserve ships, MARAD says, the “Academy training ship will remain on call for occasional use – in this case NASA missions – allowing midshipmen to get at-sea experience with commercial crews.”
Since FY 2009, the Obama Administration has requested and Congress has appropriated more than $300 million for the Academy, which includes $239 million for operations and $61 million for capital improvements – including $23 million last year, the most funding ever secured for physical improvements at the Academy. The vessel will be a major component of a renewed waterfront at the Academy that includes a new pier.
About MV Liberty Star
The MV Liberty Star was one of two vessels used by NASA to recover the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters following the launch of a space shuttle mission. Propelled by two combined 2,900 horsepower diesel engines, the 176-foot long MV Liberty Star has a 6,000 mile range and a maximum speed of 15 knots. The ship’s controllable pitch propellers and auxiliary water jet thruster, combined with “modern joy-stick dynamic positioning capability” provide midshipmen a “highly maneuverable training platform”, MARAD says. The vessel has a 7,500 pound deck crane, providing for a basic understanding of cargo operations. It also has a fast rescue boat, which can provide midshipman “critical experience” in “general launch operations.” In addition, the vessel’s double towing winch, towing H bitts, and “a massive towing fairlead” also add new towing training capabilities to the Academy’s portfolio. The M/V Liberty star was built in 1981 at Atlantic Marine Shipyard in Florida.
M/V Liberty Star in Action