As the members of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy Class of 2019 was celebrating their graduation, they were given a bit of news that was worth cheering for, too—the academy will be getting a brand-new training ship.
This will be the academy’s first-ever, brand-new, fresh-out-of-the-box training ship. All previous ships used by the academy have been hand-me-downs.
During Senator Edward J. Markey’s commencement address to the graduates on Saturday, June 22, he announced that $300 million in federal funding had been secured that would replace the TS Kennedy with a new ship.
The new ship will be built from the keel up as a training ship for the school, but is also considered a national security investment and can be used by the government for disaster relief or in the event of a national emergency. It will be considered a National Security multi-mission vessel.
Academy president Rear Admiral Francis X. McDonald said that the funding will also be used to provide a new training ship for the State University of New York Maritime Academy. Future funding is expected to provide the same for Maine Maritime Academy.
Admiral McDonald expects that the new ship will serve the academy and the nation for at least 40 years.
Even though the cadets at graduation would not be using the ship in an educational capacity, Admiral McDonald said that when they heard the news, they let out a roar of approval.
“The community is really excited about it,” he said. “The folks who should be really excited are the ones who are still in high school.”
The school currently uses the Kennedy as its training ship and has since 2000. The ship was built in 1964 and called Velma Lykes. The ship was initially used by the maritime administration as a bulk cargo freighter.
Prior to coming to the academy, the ship was used by the government for 20 years. This included being used during the Gulf War on multiple tours to the Persian Gulf to transport ammunition, fuel, tanks, and food to troops.
When the ship reached Buzzards Bay in 2001 to become a training ship, it was called the Cape Bon. It was renamed the Enterprise in honor of the school’s original training ship.
The ship was again renamed in 2009 to its current name in honor of the Kennedy family.
It was built with a crew of 30 people in mind, not for the 600 cadets and 100 crew who use it now.
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While the ship has served the campus well over the years, Admiral McDonald said the cadets have been training on equipment and technology that are decades old. Not only would a new ship have modern technology and amenities, but it would also be built specifically for training purposes.
For example, a new ship would have a training bridge located a deck below the actual bridge. This would allow cadets to have hands-on navigation experience instead of mostly observation.
The classroom spaces on the ship would be more appropriate for academics as well. Students currently use renovated cargo holds as classrooms.
The ship will benefit more than the academy community, and Admiral McDonald is glad to see that the value of these ships is getting federal recognition.
“It’s been a lot of years in the making,” he said of attaining the federal funding.
Over the course of the past 10 years, the MMA ship has been commissioned to help with several natural disasters. The ship has been used to provide relief in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, in New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
The new ship would be designed to carry up to 700 people. When being used by the school, this means 600 cadets and 100 crew and officers, but the ship would also be designed to support Federal Emergency Management Agency equipment and personnel.
Admiral McDonald said that having a ship that could house FEMA workers would be essential in responding to a disaster area like Puerto Rico where there were no available hotels.
The new ship will also have roll-on, roll-off capabilities, meaning that heavier vehicles and machinery, such as tractor-trailers, can be more easily loaded onto the vessel. There will also be water and electricity production systems on board.
“The ships have been and will remain the property of the federal government,” Admiral McDonald said. “If the federal government needs them, they can be called back whenever.”
He said that the argument that the ships are useful for FEMA assistance as well as during a national emergency were helpful in getting the bill passed.
In addition to Senator Markey, Admiral McDonald said he appreciates the efforts of Representative Katherine Clark and United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in getting the bill passed and securing new ships for MMA as well as for other maritime institutions.
Once the new ship is completed, the Kennedy will likely be kept in some state of readiness for about a decade, Admiral McDonald said. He expects that after that, it will be sold for scrap.
Admiral McDonald said the approval of the new ship is in line with their expansion plans. He said that the school is at full enrollment capacity and that they are out of academic space and running out of dormitory space.
He said the school has been working on solutions to those problems while also looking for the ship funding.