A&M Galveston seeks bigger ship for mariners in training

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    Lawman32RPD 5-Year Member

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    The Texas A&M Maritime Academy wants Congress to allocate some $300 million for a training vessel large enough to accommodate all of its students, an upgrade that would put the Galveston campus on par with the nation’s six other federally supported schools for aspiring mariners.

    Officials say the new ship is urgently needed to give cadets the required six months at sea to become certified as a third mate or third engineer.

    Its current training vessel, the 224-foot General Rudder, holds just 50 students. But the academy needed room for 275 cadets this summer. That discrepancy caused it to turn away 50 applicants for lack of space last year.

    Leadership of the maritime academy, part of Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus, worries that could exacerbate a national shortage of trained seafarers.

    Col. Mike Fossum, chief operating officer at Texas A&M University at Galveston, is working on procuring a new ship for the university to train their mariners on in the future, Monday, June 18, 2018 in Galveston. ( Mark Mulligan / Houston Chronicle )

    “Our ability to send and receive goods over the water is a critical national need that we have,” said Col. Mike Fossum, chief operating officer of TAMUG and a retired astronaut. “So we need a workforce and the ships, the capability, to meet that need.”

    For the past 12 years, A&M-Galveston has dispersed its Sea Aggies to other academies to get the required oceangoing experience on their ships. That put them not only in unfamiliar surroundings, but also at a disadvantage for leadership roles.

    Things got worse this summer, when none of the other academies were able to accommodate additional students. A&M-Galveston was forced to lease a ship from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Roughly a quarter of the $4 million bill is not covered by student fees or other federal reimbursements.

    “I’m going into the hole close to $1 million this summer to support this federal training program,” Fossum said. “I can’t do this. We’ve reached into our reserves to make this program happen this summer. But we simply do not have that.”

    This cannot become a permanent solution, Fossum said, and the school is working with the U.S. Maritime Administration and Congress to get a ship. Fossum is gaining political allies with a compelling message.

    We have been shortchanged for 12 years, and it’s about time to really help meet the needs of this program,” Fossum said.

    The university has invested more than $230 million into campus upgrades over the last seven years. That included about $50 million for residence halls, classrooms and simulators specifically for the Texas A&M Maritime Academy.

    Space became an issue after the academy stopped using the 393-foot Texas Clipper II in 2005. After that, it had ships parked at the dock and used for maintenance training but not converted to sea-going training vessels. The Maritime Administration provided the General Rudder in 2012.

    Fossum believes a larger ship would enable Texas A&M Maritime Academy to handle 800 students, up from the about 550 it currently has, and even more students on the Galveston campus overall.

    About 2,500 students take classes in Galveston. Roughly three-quarters of them don’t need to spend time on a vessel to gain a Coast Guard license because they study topics such as maritime business administration or marine biology.

    Ultimately, Fossum would like Congress to appropriate some $300 million to the Maritime Administration to provide TAMUG a 525-foot National Security Multi-Mission Vessel. The State University of New York Maritime College and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy already are expected to receive that class of ship.

    Fossum is also supporting legislation that would require maritime academies to share ships, using federal money instead of the universities’ money.

    U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, said he has met with Maritime Administration officials to discuss acquiring a larger ship.

    “Our Sea Aggies need a ship that adequately fits their needs,” Weber said in a statement.

    A new vessel would come in handy during emergencies, too. After Hurricane Harvey, the General Rudder and two other maritime academy ships were activated to provide humanitarian aid.

    The General Rudder could only hold 35 workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The other ships, which took two weeks to arrive, could handle hundreds of workers.

    The ships can provide clinics for hurricane refugees, generate clean water and electricity, and bring supplies into affected areas.

    Despite the surprise bill for leasing a vessel this summer, Fossum welcomed the fact that Texas A&M students are sailing together for the first time in 12 years.

    During their two months at sea, students take classes and also serve as the ship’s crew. They plot the navigation, work on engines and experience life at sea.

    Caitlin Bezecny, 21, of Houston serves as the cadet executive officer. Her duties include making sure everyone is present during the morning muster and then helping them with tasks throughout the day.

    She’s also using celestial navigation to chart the ship’s position, examining the skies before sunrise, at noon and after sunset.

    Bezecny, set to graduate in August, previously sailed with the California Maritime Academy. That was fun but nothing like this summer’s experience of being at sea with her classmates and longtime friends. Once their work is completed for the day, students pull out lawn chairs to watch the sun set.

    “We’re finally getting to create our own memories and our own experiences as a unified Texas A&M Maritime Academy,” she said.

    The faculty gets in on the fun, too, with Fossum boarding the vessel in New Orleans. The ship began its journey in the Cape Cod area, traveling to Cape Canaveral and then New Orleans. It departed New Orleans on Thursday and will go to Corpus Christi, Tampa and then return to Cape Cod.

    “We very proudly, as they left the dock in Cape Cod, took the Massachusetts flag down and ran the Aggie flag up,” Fossum said. “I have already warned our brothers and sisters in Massachusetts that their ship might come back with a little bit of maroon paint on it.”

    https://www.houstonchronicle.com/bu...hron&utm_medium=linkmodule&utm_campaign=btfpm
     
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