Mass. Maritime Academy Training Vessel Departs for Hurricane Harvey Relief

BUZZARDS BAY – The Massachusetts Maritime Academy training vessel T/S Kennedy departed Buzzards Bay Wednesday for the Gulf of Mexico where it will take part in Hurricane Harvey relief.

The Academy was notified last week by the federal Maritime Administration that the vessel had been activated in support of FEMA’s response to the historic flooding in southeast Texas.

A dozen academy staff members are onboard the vessel for a 30-day deployment with an option for an additional 30 days.

“We have a bunch of cadets who are interested [in going] but this happens to be the start of the semester and they are just not in a position to lose that time right now in those kind of chunks,” said Rear Admiral Francis McDonald, the academy’s president.

The federal government loans training ships to nautical academies as long as they can be used in times of national emergencies.

“It is going to be primarily used to house FEMA workers with the idea being that it would free up hotel space for the displaced citizens,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the school will have to get creative as it could be without the training vessel for a few months.

“We have some fantastic laboratories here and simulators that we can use,” he said. “We have a tug boat simulator, a ships bridge simulator. We have turbine labs, diesel labs. So it’s a matter of making the most out of those facilities.”

McDonald said the academy will probably try to stretch the academic day.

“Having some labs running in the off hours, that type of thing, to give them that same kind of time that they would have had onboard,” he said.

The crew will keep an eye on Hurricane Irma which is barreling through the Caribbean towards the Florida coast.

“There’s certainly a possibility that we will alter course to include possibly anchoring in Norfolk for a day or two to let Irma run her path and then we would come in on the back side of that,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the last week at the academy has been hectic to get the training vessel ready to depart, along with beginning the new semester.

McDonald said these emergencies are something they plan for.

“We have a navigation program, a marine engineering program, an emergency management program and we stand by and train for this,” he said. “It was only 2012 when we were called into action to respond to Super Storm Sandy so we dust those plans off and get rolling.”

McDonald said it is still too soon to know if the current deployment would have any effect on the academy’s annual sea term in January. McDonald expressed to the Maritime Administrator the school was willing to be without the vessel until December.

“If there was a way to look at some replacement facilities by that point in time that would allow us to keep all of our students on track to graduate on time,” McDonald said. “So we’ll pay attention to that, but too early to speculate.”


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