February 28, 2017

Dear Maritime College Community,

Spring semester at Maritime is not so much a sprint or marathon as it is a triathlon. Empire State is finishing up an extensive maintenance period and preparing for summer sea term; students are applying for cadet shipping and internships; and graduating seniors are applying and interviewing for jobs. 

If you want to keep up with it all, and with me, I recently joined the Twitterverse. You can hear about what’s happening on campus by following me @Maritime_Prez.

In this newsletter, I’m going to concentrate on the training ship and our efforts working with the Maritime Administration, Congress and the other state maritime academies (SMAs) to replace it.

Although TS Empire State VI is back from dry dock, work continues to install automated boiler burner management and electronic navigation systems. The bridge is now home to a state-of-the-art integrated navigation system with additional training stations. MARAD spent over $6 million on this maintenance period to ensure the ship is safe and meets classification and certification requirements. We appreciate their support.

However, we know that Empire State will leave service sometime early in the next decade. So our efforts to replace her have become more urgent. The good news is that the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contained very strong language regarding construction of a new class of vessels to replace our training ships:

“The Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Coast Guard, shall ensure that the Maritime Administrator takes all necessary actions—

(1) to complete the design of a national security multi-mission vessel for the National Defense Reserve Fleet to allow for the construction of such vessel to begin in fiscal year 2018; and

(2) subject to the availability of appropriations, to have an entity enter into a contract for the construction of such vessel in accordance with this section.”

This language means the NSMV is an officially recognized program by Congress and the president. Although the NDAA authorized $36 million for the final design, Congress appropriated only $6 million. While the authorization is great news, Congress must also match it in appropriations. Toward this end, early this month, the other state maritime academy presidents and I met with staffs from 15 congressional offices and committees to advocate increasing the appropriations language to $36 million. I also had the opportunity to meet with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s transition team to discuss the importance and urgency to replace our aging training ships. 

There is a lot of uncertainty in Congress regarding the FY 2017 and 2018 budgets. We are working with the Navy League and other state maritime academies on another letter-writing campaign to solicit support from the administration and Congress to fund a ship. We will not be alone in this campaign; other state maritime academy alumni will help. We anticipate the campaign will be live in several weeks. When it is live, we will let you know and again ask for your support.

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 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. Eventually, MARAD may need to consider another solution, but with the strong authorization language, I believe at this time our best chance for a new ship is to stay the course.

I hope this answers some of the questions you may have. 

All the best,

Rear Adm. Michael Alfultis, USMS, Ph.D.


SUNY Maritime College