What is a Maritime Academy without a training ship?
In June 1946 a German crew of volunteers boarded the tall ship Horst Wessel in Bremerhaven Germany sailing her to the new assignment as the USCGC Eagle, a training ship for the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. The cost to maintain, crew and outfit her each year is significant despite her technology, canvas raised on wooden masts, being outdated. But the US Coast Guard has successfully funded the vessel for a simple reason… a training ship, regardless of whether she is powered by sail, steam or engine, is essential to the development of mariners.
And the United States Coast Guard takes great pride in the vessel. The US Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Papp, was formerly in Command of the Eagle and continues to praise the vessel for her ability to strip away technology and teach the fundamentals of seamanship and leadership. It’s a hat he continues to wear to this day.
Animated debates have erupted in the gCaptain Forum since news broke of the US Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) reassignment of top leadership at the US Merchant Marine Academy. In the fallout, some even questioned the present-day need for such an institution. The debate quickly became one sided however when gCaptain broke the news when GMATS, a self-funded professional training organization located at King’s Point, was handed a 6 month notice by MARAD to shut down their operations. Mariners have made it clear that training, done the right way, is essential for this nation’s future.
Today’s news strikes another blow to the Academy.
MARAD is relieving the USMMA of their training ship, the T/V King’s Pointer, and pushing forward with plans to transfer the vessel to Galveston Texas, home of Texas A&M.
Sources within Kings Point report that a closed-door meeting was called on December 9th, 2011, where staff was notified of MARAD’s order. Our source tells us, “but as with everything that (the Dec 9th meeting) is sensitive, it was not a secret (except maybe to the people who will benefit from this)”. Another source close to the matter told gCaptain that the move by MARAD is “shocking and unexpected”.
To counter the arguments, MARAD released a statement today that points to continued investment in Kings Point facilities and moving to secure the long term sustainability of the Academy. In an email to gCaptain, Kim Riddle, Acting Director of Public Affairs for MARAD, sent the following comments:
As part of their ongoing program review, the United States Merchant Marine Academy’s leadership has been evaluating its many resource requirements. As part of that review, the Academy has determined that its current training ship, the TV KINGS POINTER (224′ long, built in 1983), no longer meets its training needs in a cost effective manner. Consequently, the Academy will return the ship to the Maritime Administration’s National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) later this month.
This decision also accounts for the upcoming reconstruction of Mallory Pier, the Academy’s main ship docking facility. The Mallory Pier project has been in the planning stages for several years, and work is now scheduled to begin in early 2012. The project will take 12 to 18 months, during which time there will be no docking facilities available to tie up vessels as large as the TV KINGS POINTER.
USMMA midshipmen obtain the sea time needed for their USCG license aboard commercial merchant ships and use training craft for basic familiarization, shiphandling and seamanship instruction. USMMA is in dialog with Maritime Administration Ship Operations officials to identify another training platform to fulfill its current and future training requirements. Until a new vessel is acquired, USMMA will use existing vessels such as the TV LIBERATOR (102′ long) for midshipman training.
Separately, the Maritime Administration is considering refurbishing the TV KINGS POINTER and making her available to the Texas Maritime Academy at Galveston for its own training needs.
These are, however, long term plans. What’s clear is that new training ship will not be found in time to train the cadets currently enrolled at the Academy and the TV LIBERATOR, less than half the size of the King’s Pointer, which many argue was itself not large enough to be an effective training platform, is not a reasonable solution for the short term. The result… the quality of education today’s cadets receive will suffer.