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Training Ship Empire State VII arrives at SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, New York

Photo courtesy SUNY Maritime College

New Training Ship Aborts European Cruise Amid Technical Troubles

John Konrad
Total Views: 5752
July 6, 2024

New York Maritime College’s new training ship, Empire State VII, is canceling its planned European port visits during its maiden summer cruise and returning to the western Atlantic. The decision comes due to ongoing maintenance issues that have plagued the ship since its delivery last year.

In the world of maritime training, the journey from classroom to command is often fraught with challenges, but few could have predicted the rocky seas faced by the cadets of SUNY Maritime College over the past few years. As the COVID-19 pandemic wrought havoc on traditional training schedules, the construction of new training ships, promised to set a new course for maritime education.

In early 2023, the anticipation was palpable as Rear Admiral Mike Alfultis, president of New York Maritime College, repeatedly assured students that the new training ship, Empire State VII, would be delivered by the US Maritime Administration in time for summer cruise. However, as the deadline approached, the dream ship remained docked, incomplete. Delivery delays, owing to outfitting, system integration, and rigorous testing, left the college scrambling to execute a contingency plan for the summer sea term.

Half past the 11th hour, Alfultis made a last-minute pivot. In a statement issued in June 2023, the college’s pivot was outlined. First Class Cadets were reassigned to the TS Kennedy, ensuring they met their sea time and academic requirements. Second and Third Class Cadets were left in limbo, their schedules hanging in the balance as the college sought alternative vessels. The promise of a three-week winter cruise aimed to keep cadets on track, but the disruption was undeniable.

The new ship completed a shorter cruise to Puerto Rico in January, though it experienced an extended delay in port, attributed by some to mechanical problems after encountering a storm en route.

Alfultis retired in what some alumni called an embarrassing year. However, he succeeded in one crucial mission: preparing Empire State VII for its maiden summer cruise. Or did he? Fast forward to this week, and What’s Going On With Shipping’s Sal Mercogliano reports that the brand new president, newly retired US Navy Rear Admiral John A. Okon, has released a statement saying the new ship will return to the United States early due to mechanical problems.

“We are now halfway through SST-2024,” Okon said, with cadets excelling in watchkeeping, maintenance, and class routines, already boasting two port visits. The 4th of July saw a celebratory picnic on the flight deck, a moment of respite before the next leg of their journey.

However, as Empire State VII departed Port Canaveral for Portsmouth, UK, a routine maintenance check revealed a malfunction in the fuel system’s redundancy. Engineers troubleshooted the issue within 24 hours and, although propulsion was never compromised, the decision was made to abort the UK port call and return to the western Atlantic. This move allows for better support from MARAD, the vessel construction manager, the shipyard, and the original equipment manufacturer.

“In consultation with the Maritime Administration and College leadership, Captain McManus decided to cancel the next port of call to Portsmouth, UK,” Okon explained. “This change eliminates the risk of not getting timely support for the ship in a foreign port and allows MARAD to continue troubleshooting the ongoing problem with IT networks.”

While the setback is disappointing for cadets, it has wider and more damaging implications for national security. These vessels are not just training ships but National Security Multi-Mission Vessels owned by MARAD, necessary for disaster response and transportation during war. This also comes at a time when repair shipyards are overbooked, and every newbuild shipyard in the United States—most of which are building US Navy ships or US Coast Guard cutters—is experiencing cost overruns and delays.

The Empire State VII’s premature return is a stark reminder of the fragile state of America’s maritime infrastructure. As cadets face disrupted training, the broader implications for national security and naval readiness loom large.

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