Keep that number in your head. Four. That is the number of graduates from New York (SUNY) Maritime in 2010 (the last, and only, year for which the data has been published) who incurred an obligation to the federal government in return for the annual multi-million investment it makes in the school. In contrast, USMMA produces approximately 225 graduates every year, all of whom incur an obligation to the federal government.
Let me start by saying that I regret that the battle to protect the Academy from an attack from within — by people at MARAD — has affected the traditionally friendly rivalry between the state maritime schools and the Academy. Unfortunately, as detailed here, the prior MARAD administration used USMMA midshipmen as pawns in a quest to create Congressional support for a $1.8 billion federal bailout to buy new training ships for the use of the six state maritime schools. I suspect that most of the state school administrators were unaware of MARAD’s actions; however, with former Deputy Maritime Administrator, Michael “Anchorman” Rodriguez (who cheered on the USMMA sea year
stand down cancellation) now collecting his 30 pieces of silver as the new superintendent of Texas Maritime, It’s no longer reasonable to presume such innocence. Consequently, until MARAD stands down from all efforts to alter the Academy’s sea year program on commercial ships as a part of the effort to fund state school training ships, I’m going to continue to comment on the efforts of those schools to obtain the funding for those new ships.
Which brings me to the renewed lobbying effort by the state schools to get a Congressional $1.8 billion bailout. The link is to a message from the president of SUNY Maritime, Michael Alfultis (who just happens to be a registered lobbyist). Alfultis has announced that the state schools are amping up their lobbying effort for the $1.8 billion bailout. But you will notice a few interesting things about his message. First, he cleverly only mentions funding a single ship; yet, all six state schools have made it clear that they each want a brand new ship. The other thing that Alfultis doesn’t mention is the price tag. His message only mentions $36 million; but, that sum is for the design of the ships. Once the ships are designed, you’ve got to build them; and the current estimate for building each ship is $300 million, according to this Congressional Budget Office estimate (at page 17). So the price tag to build six state maritime school ships comes to $1.8 billion (before cost overruns).
The last Congress recognized that $1.8 billion for six ships was not feasible. When MARAD and the state schools’ lobbyist (K&L Gates) came before Congress seeking the bailout, the House THUD Appropriations Committee instead instructed MARAD
“to report to the Committees within 180 days of enactment of this Act a cost-benefit analysis of undertaking a design and build effort for new schoolships versus purchasing and retrofitting ships less than 10 years old available on the open market.”
Committee Report, pp.57-58 (emphasis added).
Here is Alfultis’ non-answer to a similar question in his recent message:
I am often asked why we don’t convert a ship. There are several reasons. First, this is not just a SUNY Maritime effort. The SMA [n.b. state maritime academy] ships are federally owned. The Department of Transportation is responsible for identifying a suitable ship or, if none is available, authorizing new construction.
Second, the current training ships were all obtained by converting a ship in the ready reserve fleet (RRF) or by purchasing a US-flag ship. Congressional earmarks previously funded the conversions. There are no more suitable ships in the RFF and no more earmarks. Requests for funding for programs must be included in the administration’s budget for Congress to consider funding.
Finally, MARAD has done numerous studies that indicate that new construction is the most cost-effective solution. If MARAD was to propose one solution and the SMAs were to push another, Congress would not fund either.
Let’s deconstruct the above non-answer:
First, DOT has absolutely no obligation to provide the state maritime schools with training ships. The law, 46 U.S.C. § 51504(b), allows the Secretary of Transportation to lend a ship to a state school for training purposes and allows the Secretary to authorize construction of such a training vessel; but, it does not require the Secretary to do so. Historically, the United States has loaned surplus vessels to the state maritime schools. To suggest that DOT owes it to the schools to provide them with brand new training ships because it does not have any suitable surplus ships is ludicrous.
Second, the idea that because earmarks are banned, funds to convert an existing ship to a training vessel are not to be had; but, funds to buy new ships at a much higher cost are available, is inaccurate. This is a game of semantics. Funds to renovate existing ships can be provided in the MARAD budget in the same way that funds to buy a new ship can be put in the budget.
Third, the economics of converting a ship have altered dramatically over the last five years. The argument used to be that it didn’t make sense to convert a 25 or 30-year-old ship because its useful life expectancy was too short given the conversion costs involved (including complying with new regulations and replacing out-of-date equipment). For example, here’s what the then-president of Mass Maritime, Richard G. Gurnon, had to say in March 2015 about converting existing ships to training ships:
“It doesn’t make sense for the federal government to take old ships and invest money to repurpose them. It would make sense to build them from the keel up.”
But with the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016, there is now a glut of young ships on the market that didn’t exist when Gurnon made his statement only one year earlier. Ships that are only seven years old are being sold for scrap for pennies on the dollar. Last year, you could have driven this 7-year-old containership off of the lot for a mere $5.5 million. And the sale of such a young ship for scrap value was not an isolated event. It is disingenuous to suggest that outdated studies of conversion costs are relevant in today’s vastly different market. Congress clearly is aware of that the market has changed — that’s why it wanted a feasibility study from MARAD based upon “retrofitting ships less than 10 years old available on the open market.” And, the notion floated by Alfultis — that the state schools should not propose a solution that is contrary to MARAD’s new ship solution — is insulting to Congress and smacks of arrogance. Congress authorizes the spending — how about proposing a solution that is of interest to Congress instead of pursuing MARAD’s budget-busting-but-bureaucracy-building-boondoogle?
The federal government has an obligation to all taxpayers to get a good bang for its buck. As described above, a part of that equation is not buying a new ship for $300 million when you can get six ships that are only 7 years-old for a tenth of that amount and then convert them for far less than the cost of new ships.
What about the Return on the Federal Government’s Investment? Alfultis’ letter does not discuss how the state schools meet, or do not meet, the needs of the federal government — if the federal government is providing subsidies, then it should get a return on its investment that reflects its needs. For example, the federal government funds USMMA because it needs to ensure that in times of overseas hostilities, ships carrying the United States’ military sealift are competently manned by trusted personnel who are subject to recall by the federal government. Every graduate of USMMA “pays” for the “free” education at the Academy with three critical obligations to the United States: to sail in the merchant marine for at least five years; to maintain his/her Coast Guard license for six years (which effectively means for ten years since licenses are issued for five year terms); and to serve for eight years as a reserve officer in the United States military. MARAD monitors what USMMA graduates do during their obligation period to ensure compliance.
In contrast, only a few students from all six state maritime schools combined graduate with a similar obligation This despite the fact that the schools receive substantial financial subsidies from the federal government. Along with loaning each school a training vessel, the federal government provides funds for operating expenses ($26+ million budgeted for FY17) and it offers the “Student Incentive Program,” (SIP). For those students willing to incur a post-graduate service obligation, the SIP covers funding “to offset the cost of uniforms, books, subsistence, and tuition.” The SIP sailing obligation is for only three years; the reserve officer obligation and the license maintenance obligation are the same as for USMMA.
In 2010, (the last, and only,*** year for which data is publicly available), a total of only 38 graduates from the all six state schools combined participated in the SIP, of which only four were SUNY graduates. [Remember that number?] So let’s assume that the United States buys SUNY a $300 million training ship with a service life of thirty years. And let’s assume that SUNY doubles (compared to 2010) the number of graduates who exit the school with the service obligation to eight graduates. That works out to a cost of $1.25 million per per student. That’s in addition to the state school operating expenses that MARAD already pays (which yields a return (across all six state schools) of approximately $700,000/obligated student). That’s more than five times the cost the government pays to train USMMA midshipmen. The United States would get a much better bang for its buck by simply expanding the size of the student body at the Academy to absorb the few students at the state schools who participate in the SIP.
If I were a Member of Congress faced with an “ask” for a $1.8 billion bailout, I’d have a series of questions I’d want answered:
- I don’t care if MARAD says it wants new ships or what out-of-date studies show. And I certainly don’t care that you don’t want to offend the folks at MARAD. What is the cost of converting a ship to a training ship based upon today’s market?
- Would you agree that if the federal government is to fund the training ships as you propose, every student who embarks on the summer sea term on such vessels should be subjected to obligations to sail in the merchant marine, maintain their licenses, and serve as officers in a military reserve unit?
- Over the past five years, how many of each state school’s students graduated with the SIP obligation and why is this information not routinely published?
- Do you agree that as long as the United States is paying the costs for the training ships, it should be able to dictate that the ships be shared between the state schools?
- What if Congress decided to only fund three new ships and required them to be shared between two state schools each. Would you rather have three new ships that you share or six converted ships that you don’t share?
So why does this matter to USMMA? Because all evidence suggests that MARAD canceled sea year to use USMMA midshipmen as pawns to bolster its effort to force Congress to fund the training ships. It goes back to April 2016 and the introduction of Senate bill S.2829 where MARAD sought to have a plurality of state school representatives recommend to Congress that USMMA shift sea year from commercial ships to “alternative training.” Thank goodness that was caught in time, found buried amidst SA/SH language, and removed before the final bill became law.
That language did not write itself.
*** We suspect that the publication of the number of service-obligated state maritime school graduates for 2010 was a mistake. MARAD has assiduously avoided publicizing this information.
If the Federal government is “loaning” a vessel to the SMAs, why is it for free plus the federal government having to perform the maintenance?
Shouldn’t it be more like a standard auto lease, where the SMAs actually pay the federal government for the vessel and then maintain it during a lease?
If I had the SMA arrangement with the federal government they do now, but with my personal auto I sure would not be complaining! The auto dealer “loans” me a car at no cost and performs the maintenance!
All this is in support of a Merchant Marine that no longer has very many ships. It has become an Industry that most of the US Government no longer cares about or supports. Military strategy used to include a Merchant Marine of ships that could be changed from commercial service to military transport service. No more. Modern military strategy seems to be to use large aircraft for support.
The need for commercial sealift to support the military remains strong, even if the government plans no longer include converting them to military transport. The service members go by air, but their equipment, for the most part, still must go by sea.
That is absolutely incorrect. Merchant ships are chartered to the government either wholly or partially to carry not only combat equipment and weapons but also to supply provisions and personal effects. They do this not only in times of War but also to support our bases overseas in peacetime. Equipment is exchanged regularly to be brought back to the United States for maintenance and replaced or renewed. When servicemen are stationed overseas, it is Merchant ships that carry their personal effects, including their POV’s, to and from these bases. Most of these ships are owned by private companies and manned by US Merchant sailors.
Barrie Snyder, KP’88
[N.b. Slightly edited by the moderator. Substance was not changed; one word was changed so that the comment would not be misinterpreted as a personal attack.]
You know i have been a supporter of your views on the attacks on USMMA. However, your attack on SUNY and other SMAs is ill founded. You sound like a conspiracy nut. Having graduated from a SMA and having incurred the same obiligation as a KP grad, and having stayed in the MMR for 15 years, let me set the record straight. The kids who go to SUNY or MMA or Maine go their because they want to go to sea. They pay their own tuition. They are not putting a burden on the taxpayers to fully fund their education, The federal government gets a huge return for their investment in the training ship. Please don’t apply a KP lens to the broad outcomes of the current system. The vast majority of the new officers that are licensed each year come form the SMAs not from KP. To deny that is really to deny the history of the merchant marine in the US. I understand your charter to to watch over the USMMA and guard it. To attack SUNY Maritime because they are looking to replace their training ship is counter productive. That school has produced more licensed officers in the Merchant Marine than USMMA simply because it has been in existence for 70 years longer than Kings Point. If you don’t think the majority of current graduates are sailing on their license and available to serve in time of war you are mistaken. During Desert Storm i was activated as part of the MMR but never sailed because the men and women of the fleet many not affiliated with USMMA stepped up and crewed the ships. Those men and women were from the hawespipe and the SMAs. You have got to be kidding me on your view on the purity of the service commitment incurred by USMMA grads. I have met many grad who never spent time at sea and fulfilled their obligation shoreside. As I have stated before, i think you have done a nice job of working the current issues at the academy. I have enormous respect for you and i want you to win your battle with Marad. I respectfully suggest that you owe the President of SUNY Maritime an apology for this post. Your enthusiasm for your alma mater is commendable. You methods of attacking a honorable man who has served his Country with distinction is quite frankly deplorable. You are better than that.
Let me clarify a few things. First, I think all of the schools produce fine officers and serve an important purpose. Second, I don’t think it is fair to call this post an “attack” on SUNY or the other state maritime schools. To suggest that there are more cost effective ways to replace the state school training ships and to refuse to support the most expensive option is not an attack.
What I posted is factual. Feel free to challenge those facts or point out additional facts that you think show that I am wrong.
As far as those facts, I pointed out that President Alfultis’ letter understated what the state schools are seeking by only mentioning one ship and only mentioning the design cost rather than the construction cost. That’s true. Sure, it was good advocacy on his part; but, it was fair for me to explain the bigger picture. I pointed out that the three reasons that he gives as to why he does not talk about the cost of converting ships are disingenuous – and they are. I corrected the impression he gave that DOT has some sort of obligation to provide ships to the state schools. It doesn’t and I cited the statute in question to prove it.
I assume your suggestion that I owe Alfultis an apology is based upon my statement that the idea that state schools should not propose a solution that is contrary to MARAD’s new ship solution is “insulting to Congress and smacks of arrogance.” Sorry, but I stand by that. Alfultis certainly knows that Congress wants an assessment of conversion costs based upon the market for ships that are less than ten years old. Knowing that Congress wants that answered and stating that you aren’t going to answer it is insulting to Congress and does smack of arrogance.
I also addressed the service obligation (which Alfultis did not address) and pointed out that the return to the federal government on its investment is not as good – by a long shot – as its equivalent return from USMMA. I respect the fact that you attended one of the state schools and incurred the service obligation (aka MMR or Merchant Marine Reserve). The fact is, however, that you are one of the few such graduates from whichever school you attended. Graduating with a USCG license and graduating with a USCG license and a service obligation are two different things. [And I agree with you that in the past there were problems with enforcing the service obligation undertaken by Academy graduates (as well as by state school graduates in the SIP program). MARAD has finally gotten its act together on that score.]
I’m also curious as to how you would answer some of the questions I suggested Congress should ask. In particular, what do you think would be better for the state schools – three brand new ships that are shared? Or six relatively new ships that are converted but not shared?
Finally, let me point out that, to my knowledge, not a single leader of a state maritime school has come to the defense of USMMA in this whole debacle. (To your credit, you, and many individual graduates from state schools, have.) Even more disappointing, not a single leader of a state maritime school has come to the defense of the maritime industry and said, “No MARAD, you’re wrong: SA/SH is not prevalent on board U.S. flag commercial ships.” The leaders of the state schools have remained silent. I think Alfultis unwittingly explained why in his letter – he’s not about to disagree with MARAD. There are six state schools, but not a Spartacus among them.
What an enlightening article. The MARAD leadership responsible needs to be purged. Great job Andy. Acta non verba.
Sea year and training ships have their distinct training advantages. However this all turns out, I think it would be a great enhancement if all maritime students could participate in both.
I have to say even if you and I don’t agree on all points, i do agree on most of them.
1) Spartacus – That is the best point you have made on the state school side. I find it appalling that the leaders of the SMA did not stand up for the industry. It was the height of hypocrisy to a stand silently and continue to send cadets on to ships as the King Point Mids were sidelined. Either there was a problem or there wasn’t a problem. Was it more that they didn’t want to incur the wrath of MARAD? To me that was the only answer that made sense. Because each of them had an obligation to protect cadets if they really believed there was an issue. So given the litigious society we live in, had there really been a rampant issue in the industry and had the SMAs continued to send kids out and something happened. They would have been sued from there to kingdom come. Who would take that risk? No one is the answer. Therefore its reasonable to conclude they saw no significant risk and if that was the case something smells terribly wrong on the whole sordid affair. So in summary you are correct and the SMA leaders should have stepped up and they didn’t.
2) Interesting question on the training ships. My point of view is each of the states are in a slightly different position. Some have newer ships some quite old. Most are diesel, the oldest steam. I think building a class of ships sounds like a way to spread the design costs across up to five ships. Seems to me, the ship replacements would be sequenced across a multi year period. I think building them all or a portion now and either sharing them or replacing all at once is not the right answer. I would replace the worst and prioritize the replacements at the end of life. Sounds like SUNY if first up.
3) Regarding converting versus new builds. Having sailed many years ago on a ship that was converted. There are some good and bad things about conversions. The good is obvious. Lower initial costs of construction and quicker ( potentially ) inservice date. The bad, old technology and higher maintenance costs no matter who is paying for it. I would imagine if you took the upfront savings and compared that to the NPV of the improvements in fuel costs and lower maintenance it would be an easy answer.
4) In the spirit of sharing, i would recommend that KP actually get a new and improved vessel as well. I love the real world experience sea year provides. I find that to be irreplaceable. But i have many friends who would also say that you can’t get as much hands on as you might like due to sailing schedules. If you hit the ship at the right time you may see some very interesting things. If not, well then you may not have the same quality training as other MIds who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. If we are thinking through this from a white piece of paper. Why not find a way to standardize the training experience to supplement the sea year. To me you get the best of both worlds and you have more quality control.
As congress looks forward, i think they need to look at the whole eco system. There is a way to make this work that improves the training processes, keeps the real world training that is so valuable, and utilizes training ships to ensure no one misses out on important concepts due to the the nature of OJT ( on the job training)
PS i still think the SUNY president didn’t deserve the shot he got.
Patrick, I think you and I could sit down over a cold drink and between us come up with many ideas that would make the “ecosystem” for all the schools better. Part of the problem now is that there are such high levels of distrust between MARAD and all other stakeholders that people are afraid to suggest solutions for fear that they will be turned against their school. For example, I’m not sure standardization is best. Why not a fleet of different training ships that rotate through all of the schoolsL A tanker; a container ship; a ro ro; a tug and barge unit; a bulk carrier; a passenger ship. Some would be diesel burning; some LNG burning. Probably should still have a steam powered vessel in the mix. Most of those ships wouldn’t address sea time requirements or allow for summer sea term/sea year — we’d have to figure how that would work during the second cold drink. But the value of hands on exposure at each school of each different kind of ship would be invaluable and would improve the quality of the graduates from all of the schools.
On the third cold drink, we’ll figure out what the schools are going to do when ships shift to autonomous vessels with no crews. 🙂
Patrick, you raise a good point about the collective voice from the SMAs in how they did not support or fall in line with Kings Point.
However, they are represented through a collective voice which has presence within the leadership of SMAs and also at Kings Point: it is called the US Maritime Service.
But what is ironic, is that collective voice from the 46 USC voluntary organization is rather silent. During the Jan 17 townhall, the first audience question was about the USMS and their take as an organization on the sea year cancellation. Of course, no response was provided by Helis despite wearing that organization’s uniform.
Just want to compliment the high quality of this discussion. As a non mariner, I find it to be very informative to be able to “listen in” on people who seen to know what they are talking about. Thank you all. I wish this discussion could take place outside of the immediate craziness of the sea year stand down and the accreditation issue.
Isn’t the federal government prohibited from buying non-US flag vessels by statute? Or is it even more restrictive, allowing only Jones Act vessel acquisition? If so, except for perhaps some likely too small offshore vessels, where would a ship less than 10 years old come from?
Since the training ships do not carry cargo from one U.S. port to another, I don’t believe the Jones Act would be an obstacle. Not sure if there is any statutory restriction on the US Government buying non-US flag vessels. But, any statute can be overridden by a subsequent statute. (Most recent example being the amendment that allowed Gen. Mattis to be appointed Secretary of Defense despite an existing statute that would have prohibited it because he had not been out of the military for the duration of the waiting period established by that statute.)
Of course, one of the ongoing dilemmas for the maritime industry is the fractured nature of the coalition it represents. All too often an idea to lift up one part of the industry gores the ox of another part of the industry. (Exhibit 1 being the present conflict between USMMA and the state maritime schools.) A proposal to buy a foreign flag ship and convert it might be opposed by the country’s shipyards who are hoping to get the contract to build six ships; however, if the conversion contracts are sufficiently extensive, their opposition might be muted.
A knowledgeable grad sent me the following comment regarding Mr. Seither’s question:
The U.S. Government is not prohibited from purchasing foreign built vessels for its own use. Several RRF ships are foreign built, for example MV Cape Texas (T-AKR 112), MV Cape Taylor (T-AKR 113), MV Cape Orlando, the Cape “D” Class and etc. All of these were purchased by the Navy / MARAD from the international shipping community after Navy analysis determined that they had the characteristics that were needed. Thus, MARAD could purchase foreign cruise ships and convert them to school ships — and likely do so at much lower cost than building new.
The RRF examples are older acquisitions, when it was permitted to buy these foreign vessels. The Cape Taylor was purchased in the early 1990s if memory serves. The rules governing this have been tightened considerably in the intervening years to put some teeth into the US build requirements for government use vessels. Repetitive short term charters were also prohibited somewhere along this timeline. Without going down a big rabbit hole on this, it might not be very productive to speculate about alternatives that are not realistic, especially while these constraints may be shaping the options, good or bad, that are being proposed.
Owning or acquiring a training ship from another country does not seem to stop the Coast Guard….[edited by them moderator]. [n.b. History of the S/V Eagle (ex Horst Wessel) here. Don’t let the sensationalist headline turn you away. It’s a fascinating story.]
it had occurred to me that with all the cruise companies decommissioning or selling off smaller ships, and building bigger ones , that some would be available at a decent price and that the berthing issue would be resolved by the very nature of the cruise ship[ itself. However, I would ask the experienced mariners on this board if such ships could actually be converted into useful training type ships (cargo,tanker, RO. RO. etc) for the SMAs. Would love to hear a response from knowledgeable folks. Keep in mind that we wan the SMAs to continue producing quality officers who will eventually be sailing with our own mids. Thanks for any info you provide.
I think that is an interesting concept. A former cruise ship would have much of the infrastructure needed for a training ship. This includes berthing, mess facilities, potable water and sanitation for a large group of people. I can say that from a habitability perspective it would be a nice upgrade. When i was on a training ship the 3/c slept in cargo holds, 2/c slept 6 to a stateroom, and as a 1/c you may have had 4 to a room.
The ship would still need a fair amount of rehab and modernization. The positive side would be it could be used in national crisis for berthing for emergency responders. That has happened a number of times over the last 20 years. If memory serves the SUNY ship was actually used to transport troops ( believe it or not) from Somalia.
I still think it comes done to a basic economic evaluation of how much you save upfront versus the NPV of the lower opex over the future periods. Any scenario should be subject to that review to determine its merit versus the current plan of record.
The final point is a new ship will probably have an additional 20+ years of useful life compared to a refurbished cruise liner.
If Andy’s prediction on autonomous vessels comes true…… then that added 20+ years of useful life may not be as relevant.
Hope that helps.
Not to mention that some of the common areas (particularly the show rooms) may actually provide decent classroom space for large amounts of cadets. It would also seem to me that for certain companies, depending on things like depreciation etc., it may actually pay to “donate” a ship to an SMA rather then sell it, but I would leave that to the accountants to figure out. It also seems to me that the design, construction and testing aspects of the whole conversion process could be part of the educational process itself–just a thought.
Andy, I think you are measuring the wrong metric with regard to the small number of SMA students enrolled in the Student Incentive Program (SIP). The more important measure are the number of SMA graduates who graduate with a USCG license. Although there may be a small number of students who attend the SMAs outside the cadet system, and do not meet USCG requirements for a license, it is my understanding that the vast majority graduate with a license. Whether they sail on it depends on the availability of sea-going jobs not the obligation that might come with SIP.
As an aside I would be careful not to alienate our fellow mariners from the SMAs. As it stands, most of the SMAs grads, union schools grads, and hawsepipers would be happy to see USMMA close. You could probably include about half the Kings Pointers as well. Kings Point needs all the friends it can get! R/Mike
Michael: I think the SIP metric is the proper metric for several reasons. First, only those who are fulfilling their military obligation (which is incurred due to SIP) are subject to being called into service if needed during a time of conflict. Second, it gives an apples-to-apples comparison to USMMA. Third, those licensed-but-non-obligated students are getting a benefit from the federal government without incurring any reciprocal obligation for it. Fourth, it is not correct to say that the vast majority of graduates at the state schools obtain USCG licenses. In 2014 (which is the latest publicly available data from MARAD), the state schools graduated 1500 students. The number of non-license grads exceeded the number of licensed grads (766 non-license v. 734 license). Further, the license grads include students graduating with limited licenses (for example SUNY has an associate degree, two year, program where you can graduate with a limited deck or engine license). (I haven’t yet found a definitive answer, but I suspect that the students who graduate without licenses nevertheless are able to take advantage of the training vessels at least while they are alongside the dock (for labs, classrooms, etc.) and thus would also derive a benefit from the federal government without incurring any reciprocal obligation).
I have no desire to alienate the supporters of the state schools. I think I made that clear in my response to Patrick McCarthy. I don’t agree that “most of the SMAs grads, unions schools grads, and hawsepipers would be happy to see USMMA close. I’ve sailed with many and was helped and mentored by many as a cadet and young officer. My nearest neighbor is a SUNY grad. Some of the best confidential tips I’ve received are from state school grads who are in jobs where they have access to important information. To be sure, there are some vocal antagonists on some of the forums like at gCaptain. But I wouldn’t paint the vast majority of the them with that paintbrush. Ditto with respect to your comment about Kings Point grads. Sure, there are always a few; but to suggest “about half” is hyperbole.
I also know that there are some deeply hostile SUNY grads embedded in MARAD as permanent employees. They are certainly a problem. But they were there before I started this blog. It’s my hope they won’t be after new leadership takes over and has a chance to clean house.
If this site is to be seen as something other than a way to express frustration, to be seen as an honest broker of information and a server of enlightened opinion, getting into details of SIP and other issues will work against this.
Some of these threads are encouraging discussion that cannot be helpful. There are both legal and expert issues that cannot be addressed effectively here. For instance, laymen and women, cannot adequately understand what requirements are needed for training, whether on a training ship or in a commercial environment. Competence standard setting, and the resulting training and assessment are expert fields. For instance, if we encourage discussion about cruise ships being plausible options for training ships among generally interested parties I suggest this can create some energy among alumni, and particularly parents, but discredit the entire effort for the political, agency, and regulatory people who have day to day responsibility for these matters.
This and getting into any form of stare versus federal school discussion is distracting. The “requirement” and actual cost for any of these programs is wholly dependent upon a host of assumptions that I have never seen any agreement on. This will immediately become a parochial distraction and should be avoided in the context this website is constructed upon as I understand it.
My personal view is that the state and federal academies operate in a single ecosystem. If the federal academy disappears the state schools will recede into their state university systems and there will be no national platform for discussion of seafarer or maritime leadership. Anyone who thinks that deleting KP means that money will automatically go to state schools is not paying attention to how politics works. It is only an opinion.
I am hopeful that your efforts have a positive impact.
Erik: I’ll start with your last point first. I agree with you that closing Kings Point would harm, rather than help, the state schools. And while I don’t think the opposite is true, I certainly think the state schools are important, serve a valuable purpose on the federal level (in addition to the value they bring to their individual states). The industry is already composed of so many diverse interests that any effort to advance the industry as a whole almost inevitably ends up in a circular firing squad; I don’t want to see that added to by increased hostility between the state schools and USMMA.
But, I vehemently disagree with you that “getting into the details of SIP” will prevent this site from being seen as an “honest broker of information and a server of enlightened opinion.” In fact, I think just the opposite is the case. It is pretty clear that MARAD has deliberately deep-sixed all data about the metrics of the SIP program. It publishes information about state maritime school statistics for graduation, licensing, and the job sectors in which the graduates land; but not the information about the SIP program. During the last administration, MARAD accidentally published an Excel spreadsheet about those statistics that included an additional worksheet (behind the main worksheet). The additional worksheet had the 2010 data for the state schools and included the SIP data. Thus, we know (a) that it has the data and (b) that it has made a deliberate decision not to publish it in subsequent years. If MARAD doesn’t want us to have the data and this site makes it available, then it is this site that is the honest broker of information. There is a reason that MARAD does not want this data public. I think it is because it doesn’t want the SIP data used as a metric for measuring the federal return on its investment even though that is the only true way you can measure the return on the federal dollar.
I also disagree with your comment that “[s]ome of these threads are encouraging discussion that cannot be helpful. There are both legal and expert issues that cannot be addressed effectively here. For instance, laymen and women, cannot adequately understand what requirements are needed for training, whether on a training ship or in a commercial environment.”
We already have too much of a problem with “wise” bureaucrats in MARAD deciding what is good for us. MARAD won’t keep the public informed about the status of the restoration of sea year. It won’t keep the public (or even Congress) informed about the thought process that went into the sea year
stand downcancellation. It won’t keep the public informed about the status of the effort to stave off the loss of accreditation. It won’t keep the public informed about the work of the SAPR Working Group. I’m certain that this site has published information that people in MARAD think “cannot be helpful.” In fact, I’m damn proud of that. The sad truth is that this volunteer-run and funded website has more credibility than MARAD and the USMMA Administration combined.
But, therein lies the problem. People in MARAD and at USMMA need to start listening to, and working for, the stakeholders. And they need to explain — honestly — what they are doing instead of setting themselves up as people who know better than us mere commoners. If this site “discredit[s] the entire effort for the political, agency, and regulatory people who have day to day responsibility for these matters” (emphasis added), then it is the fault of those “political, agency, and regulatory people” for working in secret and refusing to honestly communicate with the public. The truth is, this site has discredited the “political, agency, and regulatory people” — and they have deserved every bit of the approbation they have received.
With all due respect to Mr. Simpson, my long term goal is to never feel the need to read this website again. Other than the fact that I have a mid at the Academy and regular visiting mids at my home who loves the school and the career path they are on, I have no real personal stake in the USMMA or the SMAsother than as a citizen and taxpayer. As I’ve stated, I am not a mariner but as a parent, I do benefit somewhat from some of the intelligent discussions on this board regarding the benefits and negatives of each system. My presence here and my inquiries are the result of that discussion and the lack of trustworthy info provided by the academy itself to parents and students regarding sea year and accreditation. That’s why I feel compelled to ask the questions I do, for example, my question about cruise ships.
I do not wish to “encourage discussions that cannot be helpful” or to pit “state vs. federal schools” against each other. In fact, I recognized that my mids will one day be sailing with grads from those schools and I want them all as well trained as possible. If the SMAs need new ships, and it seems clear that they do, I am all for it. I just don’t want that “need” used as an excuse to deprive my mids (child and guests) of the education they were promised in return for the commitments they have made.
Quite frankly, I wish there was enough American flagged shipping capacity to get every kid from every school out on a real commercial or military ship in small groups or 2-4 so they can get more hands on experience. Unfortunately there isn’t so an affordable way to get the SMAs the new ships that they need has to be found, which is what led to my perhaps uneducated question about retired cruise ships in the first place.
If decent and reliable info were being provided by MARAD and I didn’t have to worry about my mids and their careers, this is the last place I would be.
That said, I appreciate the forum because it is the only place that a real open public discussion seems to be taking place.
First let me say there is nothing wrong with you making any suggestions for discussion. Being a lay person or more seasoned mariner does not give someone a license to pose or not pose questions. I respect Eric’s point of view and perhaps i should have started my response earlier by saying, cruise ship refurb and conversion to a training ship is probably not reasonable. Then i could have went further with my thoughts on the merits of your idea. That was my fault not yours. Eric and others I apologize for not being clearer. It was such a novel idea i thought it was worth highlighting the pros so to speak.
On the whole questions of using SIP as a metric. I would offer all this thought. The SIP program was introduced many years ago. At the time I and many others participated, we were in a Cold War situation and the cost to attend the state schools was significantly lower than it is today. Unlike the USMMA all the kids who are not NROTC are paying the full boat to go to the SMAs. That means loans and any other way many people can sacrifice to pay for that education. In many cases that could amount to $200K+ in costs.
The SIP program has not kept up with tuition escalations and for many they make the simple calculation of do i want to deal with the annual requirements and military obligations when i receive less than a years worth of assistance. If the SIP program were to be a 4 year full scholarship ( as is the case at USMMA) I would suggest you would have the vast majority of the license program cadets in the SIP programs at the SMAs.
I am not suggesting that should happen. I am suggesting looking at SIP participants versus KP grads is like looking at apples and pears. The govt is getting what it pays for. If that is Andy’s point then he is correct. However, it dosen’t mean the vast majority of the kids getting out of the state schools are not sailing or in the marine industry. It indicates the Govt was willing to pay for insurance for the need to ramp sea lift in case of the another large armed conflict. You could ask the question are there really that many uncrewed reserve ships that need that kind of insurance and a ready work force.
I think you wind up looking at a shrinking set of ship assets and that really tells the story of a maritime strategy that is a product of how our govt plans to project force. I would respectfully suggest the need for as large an insurance policy is not there any more as you look at the reserve fleet. As such it makes all the sense in the world that MARAD would rely on KP and the limited pool of mariners in the current SIP program to meet this diminishing need. So that is my long winded way of explaining the current SIP program, the limited numbers of participating SMA school kids and providing a counter point for Andy on why this is a relevant metric.
I think if we are going to resign ourselves to a steadily shrinking US Flag merchant marine, then it becomes increasingly difficult to justify purchasing $1.8 billion in training ships. I think SIP participants are the closest metric to Kings Point graduates. Virtually the same obligation (the major difference being a commitment to sail in the merchant marine of 3 years for SIP versus 5 years for KP). And I’ve got no quarrel with increasing the stipend to SIP participants to cover their tuition so that it is a free ride like at KP. Then the government gets the same return on the investment. But, the government can get that same return on its investment by increasing the enrollment at the Academy in an amount equal to the number of SIP participants (averaging around 35 per year).
Yes, the state maritime schools turn out licensed grads; but, on average, it is only 44% of the graduating student body. And many of them sail. According to SUNY, only 40% of its graduates with licenses actually sail on them (and for how long is unknown). To Patrick’s point, the question then becomes, “Why should the USA invest $1.8 billion in the six state schools to produce these licensed graduates?” And this is especially so if you accept the decline of the US Flag fleet.
I don’t think we should accept the decline of the fleet. And I’ve got no problem with some federal assistance to the state schools to produce licensed mariners. But I have a huge quarrel with $1.8 billion to six state schools when the output of students with obligations to the USA is so limited.
And I’ll go off topic a bit. I also think the state schools need to be realistic about what they seek. The Trump administration has told the USCG to plan on a 10% cut to its budget. That includes eliminating a $500 million National Security Cutter. If Trump is going to do that to an organization that play a key role in border security, what does that say about the chances for new training ships? Seems to me it makes more sense for the schools to go the administration with a plan to convert six existing ships — in six different shipyards — in the next two years. That maximizes jobs quickly. That fits much better into the Trump administration’s agenda. And, as they have in the past, the schools should include an offer to pay some of the costs. That fits with the idea of partnering with the government that is all the talk in Washington when the talk is about building infrastructure.
This is really just an aside on the underlying debate but let me sk this question. Couldn’t the process of designing, budgeting , constructing and or renovating SMA ships become part of the curriculum or provide shipyard internships for SMA and KP students. It would seem to me that these renovations could almost become a class or school project.
I would never resign myself or others to accepting a declining fleet. I really wish you and I could have an impact on that front. If we did we would surely reimagine a different reality. But we do live in the current world where global economics have a much larger impact than KPS or any SMA marketing efforts.
The RRF fleet size is a indisputable fact. You may want to check on the license track at the SMA. For instance I asked a friend about SUNY. They have 65% in license track. But that dosen’t tell the whole story. The regiment is actually 150 heads higher than any time in its history. The additional heads that dilute your statistics are grad students and some day non license track. Said a different way their regiment and license track are larger than any point in its history. If you apply the 40 % to that number than you get 80% of the students in license track are sailing on their license.
Now you know I reall/y do agree with you on 90% of the postings. But this one I have to say you may be a bit off.
Granted I only checked SUNY and others may be very different. But it illustrates the dangers of using blanket stats.
And on the question of could this be a school project. Honestly, another good idea but the reality is the refurb is too important. Many lives rely on doing it right and having professional engineers and naval architects design and mange the refurb is essential. The sea is demanding and undergrad engineers are not the answer to complicated conversions.
Finally, seems to me that elimination of a USCG cutter has nothing to do with training ships. You might as well say the govt eliminating a new class of submarines is relevant to this discussion. This decisions might be better left to the folks who plan life cycles of current assets versus the folks on this blog who are trying to hold MARAD responsible for their actions regarding USMMA
Ps I was not suggesting the govt should not buy the ships. They should be sequenced and we should realize these ships supports training on all license candidates not just Sip cadets.