Sustainable (R)Evolution: A Multipurpose Maritime Education Fleet

By Chad Fuhrmann
Industry Stakeholder Chad Fuhrmann presents ‘an unprecedented opportunity’ as well as a viable option when it comes to finding replacement training vessels for future maritime officers …
Efforts have been underway since 2014 to procure government funding for new training vessels for the State Maritime Academies (SMA). Pending bills in Congress at this time would provide $300 million for the construction of the first of four training vessels for the SMAs with a total of $1.2 billion for the proposed four vessel package. Domestic maritime stakeholders have other options, however. These alternatives are attractive for more than one reason. 
Separately, the U.S. offshore energy sector has experienced a significant decline in demand and production, reflecting the international drop in oil prices. Consequently, utilization rates of Offshore Support Vessels (OSV) have dropped significantly over the last two years. Indeed, some global estimates put the number of idled OSVs at as many as 1,000 units. Many of these assets are on the market at a time when demand is low, and valuations are moving in the same direction.
Considering the number and type(s) of vessels currently laid up in the Gulf of Mexico region and the need for new and relevant training platforms for the nation’s maritime schools, this fleet of inactive OSVs represents a potentially unique opportunity to create a diverse, Multi-Mission Maritime Education Fleet comprised of high tech vessels that are capable of performing both training and commercial functions, and are readily equipped with the modern equipment now standard across the maritime industry.
The Changing Face of the U.S. Maritime Industry
Modern OSVs make up a growing sector of the U.S. maritime industry. The total number of Jones Act eligible vessels currently hovers at around 40,000 hulls, with less than 400 of these considered deep draft or blue water tonnage. OSVs (+/- 1,000), coastal vessels, and boats plying the inland waterways make up the remainder, accounting for fully 99 percent of U.S. flag, Jones Act assets.
Growing significantly since the 1990s, the OSV sector has provided employment to thousands of people, including graduates of the six SMAs and the federal academy at Kings Point. Beyond this, of the 1.5 million jobs provided by the greater marine industry, over 400,000 are located in the Gulf of Mexico region alone, with a large portion of those dedicated to the support of the offshore industry. 
It is therefore time to reconsider the mission and method of the nation’s maritime education and training programs and shift focus to an area of the industry that continues to grow and evolve more quickly than the sectors that have traditionally been the focus of the U.S. SMA’s. And, while the focus of domestic maritime training is evolving to match changing demands – robust brown water programs have emerged at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, SUNY Maritime College and Maine Maritime Academy, for example – the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy remains focused on a blue water track curriculum.
In with the New
Technologies such as Dynamic Positioning (DP) and Electronic Chart Display & Information System (ECDIS) are active components of the modern OSV and a requirement of any modern fleet, including many deep water vessels. Additional equipment installed on these vessels includes advanced propulsion, power generation, and ancillary systems required for their operation. While classroom training can provide a basic understanding of technologies in use in the industry, OSVs offer opportunities to interface directly with this technology on actual operating platforms. This work can likewise be used to provide practical experience to both marine and non-marine technical training programs.
The vessels currently serving SMAs as training vessels, all on loan from Marad, range in age from 26 years (Maine Maritime) to a whopping 54 years (SUNY Maritime). These vessels remain in good overall condition despite their age but are equipped with outdated technology and are approaching or exceeding the extent of their useful service lives. In short, the existing training vessels are not up to the industry standards for which the future leaders of the industry will be responsible when entering the industry.
Maritime Training & Education Afloat
Firsthand training and experience in manning, operating, and maintaining well-equipped, modern vessels will result in a larger pool of better trained officers available to serve the future marine industry. Cadets can serve as active crewmembers with responsibilities for the day-to-day management, execution, and maintenance of vessel operations under the supervision of experienced industry professionals and Academy/school staff.
Relevant experience in vessel handling and seamanship remain more applicable to the requirements of the modern seafarer than traditional single screw vessels. OSVs, for example, maneuver in and out of port more frequently than larger, ocean-going vessels providing more frequent opportunities for maneuvering exercises. Likewise, the horsepower requirements of these vessels typically exceed the minimum horsepower requirement for unlimited engineering licensure. The engineering basics remain identical to larger vessels but with more opportunity to witness and participate in both routine and unscheduled maintenance activities on modern marine systems.
On the deck side of the equation, the tonnage requirements for deck cadets is the same as for any other mariner seeking an unlimited license. All time must be acquired aboard vessels of 100 GRT or more, and 50 percent of all time must be acquired on vessels of 1600 GRT or more. At the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, cadets acquire more than 50 percent of their time aboard the T/S Kennedy, they can serve aboard various tonnage vessels for their commercial shipping time (not to exceed 60 days), as long as those vessels are over 100 GRT.
There are hurdles to overcome: a typical modern 225-foot OSV might have berthing for less than 20 and a GRT of just 500 tons, enough for a cadet to garner 50 percent of his or her sea time, but not enough to get it all. On the other hand, a 340-foot multi-purpose support vessel (now under construction) will eventually be rated at almost 8,000 GRT and have accommodations for as many as 87 persons. Hence, the academies would have to choose wisely – both in terms of berths to accommodate as many cadets as is possible, while also exceeding minimum tonnage thresholds. 
Shore Side Education & Experience
One very unique aspect of this program involves the shoreside fleet management responsibilities that may be assigned to students pursuing maritime business degree paths. Practical experience will extend beyond the classroom into an industry environment as students actively participate in the operations and management of individual vessels and the overall fleet. Not only would cadets be active on board the vessels but they – as well as non-sailing, maritime business and management students – can likewise develop applicable management skills through involvement in the detailed aspects of fleet management.
The Multi-Mission Maritime Education Fleet can offer students a one-of-a-kind, firsthand understanding of the detailed aspects of fleet management by being directly involved in fleet logistics, moving vessels between the schools, scheduling maintenance and general upkeep, and by marketing vessels for other commercial purposes.
“PartnerSHIPS” – Government & Industry Collaboration
When and if fully realized, the Multi-Mission Maritime Education Fleet would offer the industry a functioning fleet of mobile learning platforms capable of fulfilling multiple purposes and industrial missions. If developed properly such a fleet can serve the greater marine industry as training facilities and commercial assets all while providing a mobile and adaptable tool for the Nation’s defense needs. In addition to its primary mission of educating, training, and developing maritime personnel, collaborative efforts may include:
  • National Defense & Emergency Response – Fleet vessels would serve the Department of Defense as supply vessels carrying military cargo and/or performing specialized operations for the U.S. Military.
  • Humanitarian Missions – The Multi-Mission Maritime Education Fleet can serve not only as a means of projecting U.S. power but also promoting the Nation’s humanitarian capabilities in times of crisis. Vessels and management resources may be used for the purpose of supporting operations around the globe.
  • Commercial Entities – The proposed fleet of vessels would continue to serve a variety of commercial purposes depending on original industrial missions, comprising an array of services to the offshore industry and continuing to serve the needs of various commercial entities.
  • Environmental Response – Fleet vessels can serve as an agile line of response in the event of an environmental disaster. The Multi-Mission Fleet can act in the capacity of an Oil Spill Response Organization (OSRO) with vessels located around the U.S. OCS and even in the Great Lakes providing a quick primary response.
  • Academic Institutions – Learning institutions outside of Maritime Academies can likewise benefit from the education and research facilities provided by the fleet. Services may be provided through agreement between institutions, the government, or whatever form the fleet management organization may take.
Commercial & Political Challenges
Creating and developing a Multi-Mission Maritime Education Fleet will require the support of a multitude of stakeholders inside and outside of the industry. Moreover, it will take a perspective that realizes the maritime industry is at a critical juncture from which the evolution of the industry will be determined.
Despite the decline in U.S. deep water shipping, the academies have continued to develop training programs around the needs of this sector. Sea time on training vessels and merchant ships of unlimited tonnage was seen as taking priority over smaller vessels serving the coastal, inland, and offshore trades. Presumably, experience on unlimited tonnage vessels could be more easily transferred to smaller vessels versus the opposite direction.
Existing OSVs already fulfill many of the requirements outlined in proposed regulation currently before Congress and the Senate, but to fulfill the needs of the industry and the nation, cadets will need to be trained and prepared for service in both the limited and unlimited tonnage markets. The proposed Multi-Mission Maritime Education Fleet offers a viable alternative to the traditional training philosophy which continues to be promoted in the current legislation.
Industrial (R)Evolution
Understanding and accepting the modern maritime industry, including all of its various facets, will allow the training institutions and their programs to evolve at a pace consistent with industry trends. A Multi-Mission Maritime Education Fleet can evolve with the industry offering a functioning fleet of mobile learning platforms capable of fulfilling multiple purposes and industrial missions while making use of existing assets, at a potentially and substantially lower price. Together, this opportunity provides unprecedented opportunities to students and cadets while promoting a sustainable approach to the industry and providing a higher return on investment to taxpayers in comparison to proposed newbuild programs.
With the creation of a modern and pragmatic fleet of vessels cadets, midshipmen, students, veterans, and technicians can learn, grow, and graduate with competence and applicable experience that would prepare them as licensed mariners and leaders for service in the transportation and defense needs of the Nation.
The Author
Chad Fuhrmann is an independent consultant with two decades of experience in the maritime industry. He sailed internationally as a Chief Engineer before shifting focus shoreside, consulting clients in marine operations, engineering, and dynamic positioning. As the owner of (R)Evolution Consulting & Engineering Services, Chad provides new and innovative approaches to marine operations, engineering, and professional development guided by his Company’s core mission, “Protecting commercial viability through integrity assurance.” Chad volunteers his time to industry groups including the National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee and the Marine Technology Society and acts as an adviser to the U.S. Coast Guard and other organizations.
(As published in the September 2016 edition of Marine News)
Marine News Magazine, page 30,  Sep 2016

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