A Legislative Mystery: Why was legislation to help SUNY Maritime avoid its imminent training ship crisis scuttled in a Senate bill?

SUNY Maritime is facing a crisis.  Its training vessel, the EMPIRE STATE VI will be decommissioned in 2019. Moreover, MARAD, which owns the vessel, has reportedly told SUNY that it will no longer pay for the 54-year-old ship’s maintenance; so, it is conceivable that the vessel will be taken out of service even sooner. SUNY has not identified a replacement vessel and certainly a new ship could not be built before the 2019 decommissioning date. Hence SUNY’s crisis: By 2019 (if an engineering casualty or USCG inspection does not advance the date), SUNY Maritime will have no training ship.

There are six state maritime schools with training ships, and all of those ships are owned by MARAD and loaned to the schools. Thus, when SUNY finds itself without a training ship, it should be a simple matter for the Secretary of Transportation to order one of the other state schools to share its ship with SUNY. Right?

Wrong. Incredibly, existing law, 46 U.S.C. § 51504(g)(2) prohibits the Secretary of Transportation from “requiring a State maritime academy to share its training vessel with another State maritime academy, except with the express consent of Congress.”

Given the ticking time bomb facing SUNY, the logical solution is to amend the statute to allow the Secretary of Transportation to require ship sharing. Someone obviously figured this out, and therefore when S.2829 was introduced in the Senate in April 2016, it included an amendment to 46 U.S.C. § 51504(g) that threw a life ring to SUNY:


Section 51504(g) of title 46, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:

“(g) Vessel Sharing.—The Secretary, after consulting with the affected State maritime academies, may implement a program requiring a State maritime academy to share its training vessel with another State maritime academy if the vessel of another State maritime academy—

“(1) is being used during a humanitarian assistance or disaster response activity;
“(2) is incapable of being maintained in good repair as required under section 51504(c) of title 46, United States Code;
“(3) requires maintenance or repair for an extended period;
“(4) is activated as a National Defense Reserve Fleet vessel pursuant to section 4405 of title 50, United States Code;
“(5) loses its United States Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection or its classification; or
“(6) does not comply with applicable environmental regulations.”.

(Emphasis added.)

That proposed amendment is eminently reasonable. Suppose one of the state school ships suffers an engineering casualty: While the other state schools might be reluctant to share their ship, common sense dictates that the Secretary of Transportation should be able to step in and say, “Excuse me, I own these ships, and I am ordering you to help out your sister school; and I would, and will, do the same if your school ever suffers a similar fate.” Who could possibly object to this proposed amendment?

We don’t know who objected, but between the time that S.2829 was first introduced in April 2016 and when it was voted on by the full Senate in June 2016, the ship sharing amendment was removed from the bill.

So here’s your legislative mystery: Figure out a logical reason for removing this provision. The only stakeholders that could care about this are the state maritime schools. But why would they want to remove this language?

We’ll have our answer in the next post. Post your answers in the comments. And follow the comments to this post. We may post hints.


  1. While S. 2829 was introduced, it has not yet been passed. However, I would like to discuss the section with the clause “(5) loses its United States Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection or its classification”.

    It is my layman’s understanding that since the SMA ships are federally owned, they are considered “public vessels”. As such, they do not have the same COI as a commercial ship, but rather a “certificate of voluntary compliance”. Also, because they are federally owned, they may not actually maintain classification because there is no need to obtain insurance.

    Thus, rendering this clause useless as well.

    • This is not technically correct. Public vessels have COIs. They also have Class Certificates. You are thinking of SOLAS and MARPOL Statements of Voluntary Compliance. So it is possible for them to have their COI pulled or having Class suspended.

  2. The state schools have always objected to sharing for status reasons. I recall then Marad Administrator Shear proposing a new ship and sharing and a Senator, for whom a ship was subsequently renamed, said NO! State schools like to have the big ship alongside, even if it is an antique. Since a modern training platform for each is beyond even government economic sanity, Marad has relegated them to having platforms that belong in the scrap yard.
    I will also point out that the Secretary of DOT does not own the ships, any more than the Maritime Administrator can claim the ROS ships are “my ships” as he did recently. These ships are the property of the US Government which, last I checked, was controlled by US citizens.

  3. I will go with a certain Senate Transportation Staffer who likes to support MARAD causes even if they dont make sense…

    Why? Because MARAD needs a crisis (or now two) to justify the expense of the new fleet of training ships.

  4. There is an element not addressed here. Shipyards (and their significant lobbies) would also have a concern with this clause. If they are looking at a proposed $1.2 billion package for a series of four vessels (nad potentially more) there is little incentive to share when a larger profit can be made.

  5. Well, with a new party coming into power, hopefully Sec Foxx and Admin Janiechen will be back to the private sector and new appointees will come in and hold Colonel Helis accountable for the SA/SH smokescreen he has put up. Chances are someone on his staff is reading this site, and so the message is this: We will keep up pressure on Congress, and will reach out to the new DOT Secretary with our concerns and request you be reigned in and held accountable for haphazardly jeopardizing the licensing and careers of hundreds of Midshipmen who have volunteered to serve their nation.

  6. Being a Kings Pointer I have always valued the commercial shipping sea year as the advantage that put Kings Pointers ahead of the state schools. I understand that the cost of maintaining a training ship is huge, but what if we activated some of the ROS ships and had them as the training ships. This would enable the ROS ships to get underway hours and budgets and it would also enable midshipman from all the academies to benefit from being on a real ship, and it would benefit the ROS fleet, that has just suffered a loss in manning.

  7. While I don’t know where the claim of MARAD stating that maintenance will not be paid for on the Empire State, I do know that the FY17 NDAA does specifically allot $22 million for state training ship maintenance.

    • The statement by MARAD that there would be no further funding for maintenance of the Empire State was made by MARAD in a telephone conference with many people from MARAD and all six of the state maritime schools participating. The funding in the NDAA is for state training ships generally; MARAD controls how it gets distributed to the state schools.

      • Yet they claim they cannot control how any of the State Schools respond to SASH…. Cut funding until they kill training of midshipmen as USMMA has done. Unless, of course, there is an ulterior motive to gutting USMMA by jeopardizing the licensure and graduations of hundreds of USMMA Midshipmen.


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