CASTINE — Maine Maritime Academy is one step closer to replacing its aging training ship State of Maine with a modern vessel that will better serve the needs of the school’s students.
Last week, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, announced that the Senate, by a vote of 84-9, advanced a funding bill that includes $300 million for the acquisition of a new training vessel for MMA.
“This ship is a critical training asset for Maine Maritime Academy, which is why I fought to include this funding throughout the appropriations process,” Collins said in announcing the proposed funding. “This new ship will be capable of meeting the demands of the rigorous instruction students receive.”
“This appropriation demonstrates that Congress believes in the value of our state maritime academies and our role in support of economic and national security,” Maine Maritime Academy President William J. Brennan said in a statement. “Funding for this ship, the third in the National Security Multi-mission Vessel (NSMV) program, replaces the aging fleet of training ships with purpose-built modern vessels, greatly enhancing our maritime training and education program. Our current ship is almost 30 years old and the oldest ship in the fleet is more than 55 years old.”
Earlier this year, Collins opposed a Trump administration proposal requesting $205 million to construct a training vessel for MMA. It would have been inferior to a ship funded in fiscal year 2019 for Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
The $300 million for the new training ship at MMA was included in the fiscal year 2020 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill authored by Collins.
When Congress approved funding last year for a new training ship for Massachusetts Maritime Academy, the anticipated timeline for construction and delivery of the new vessel was four years. The clock for construction of a new training ship for MMA won’t start ticking until Congress finally approves a fiscal year 2020 transportation funding bill that includes the $300 million.
The State of Maine was launched for the Navy in 1990 as the USNS Tanner, a “fast oceanographic research vessel.” The ship suffered a significant engine casualty in 1993 and was laid up by the Navy, which transferred ownership of the vessel to the Federal Maritime Administration.
Tanner lay idle in the James River (Virginia) Reserve Fleet until 1996 when she began a conversion process that, among other changes, removed her underwater sonar domes and equipment. The two original engines were removed and a single, new “one-of-a-kind” turbo-diesel power plant was installed with significantly less horsepower than her former engines.
The vessel was renamed Training Ship State of Maine, and was modified to increase the accommodations from 108 to 302 persons. New lifesaving equipment and upgrades to existing equipment were accomplished as well as enhancements to the habitability requirements of the vessel. She was delivered to MMA in June 1997 and sailed her maiden training cruise the following week.