John Konrad

The US Merchant Marine Academy’s Silent Ally

John Konrad
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September 5, 2012

Editor’s Note: On Friday the New York Times published an investigation into alleged troubles at the US Merchant Marine Academy. The following is a response from gCaptain’s founder, John Konrad, who was quoted in the article. John’s comments are his personal opinion and do not reflect an official stance by gCaptain.


John Konrad
gCaptain.com CoFounder John Konrad

On August 1st the New York Times called asking me to discuss the Merchant Marine Academy. I was excited to reconnect with such a reputable media company and one that I had worked closely with back in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon investigation. Not only that, but it was the Times’ Ariel Kaminer who contacted me, a well-known author of The Ethicist, a column in the Sunday edition which I never fail to read.

Like the New York Times, gCaptain maintains strict editorial control of the articles posted to the news section of this site to maintain as unbiased an approach as possible, and to make it clear when an opinion is being stated.  Each article is vetted by a gCaptain editor to eliminate bias and we do not publish editorials without the consensus of our managing editors and partners.

For this reason I have remained silent but, like most of US mariners, I do have an opinion about Kings Point. To be clear however, this is my opinion and by no means does it represent an official stance by gCaptain.

The New York Times article was, in my view, well written and accurate. It exposed problems with the school, but also offered explanations and comments by people I admire and respect. One of these people is Sean Connaughton, a former MARAD Administrator, Kings Point Alumni, and a person I know to be strong supporter of  the US Merchant Marine. It is for these reasons I suggested to Kaminer that he be interviewed for the article… yet his comments opposed mine in the final article published on Friday.

Why would I suggest that Connaughton be interviewed knowing his support of the school would appear alongside my comments?

Because of economy and ethics.

My interview with the Times took hours and consisted of 22 follow-up emails. Thousands of words were spoken but only 39 made it to print:

“It’s an educational institution for an age that the U.S. doesn’t participate in any more,”

And:

“is not focused on the new age of technologically advanced offshore rigs, sub-sea engineering and development of new ideas for port structures and systems.”

These comments certainly appear negative when taken out of the context of the longer conversation I had with Kaminer, a conversation in which I expressed my support of the school. So why were the more positive comments not published? The reason is pure economy. Kaminer was writing a two page article, not a book, and the subject was Kings Point, not my personal view on the need for a strong, well educated, merchant marine.

Further, I stand behind both my comments and my support of KP because my quotes do not make KP irrelevant, they simply mean that the school needs to evolve to meet the future of US shipping, a future which includes new technologically advanced ships and vessel operation (shoreside) systems, staggering growth offshore, evolving naval threats, a new world economy and plenty of current port/infrastructure problems that need to be addressed. All problems which previous administrations and programs within KP (e.g. GMATS) have addressed in the past, but are no longer supporting.

Personally, I think KP is of great value and this country’s biggest problem is that we don’t fund enough maritime programs at a national level.  If it where up to me, I’d double the school’s budget to fund new programs like those suggested on our Forum (e.g. industry training like GMATS had provided and student training in Dynamic Positioning systems) as well as high level research and development programs to solve the industry problems we all know exist.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to dictate the national budget nor do I get to pick which 39 of my words the NYTimes will publish. I can only hope that my comments do serve to broaden the nation’s discussion of maritime affairs. It is in this reason that I am announcing a call for papers. gCaptain will continue this discussion on the relevance of Kings Point to the future of maritime education. Please email your articles and comments to [email protected] and we will publish the best comments.

I hope this call results in a broadening of the US Merchant Marine Academy’s funding and support however, I also realize that there is a strong opposition to this.  Fair enough, we’ve heard from that side of the debate and I now welcome anyone willing to support Kings Point publicly.

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