Hurricane Relief - Massachusetts Maritime Academy Training Ship Kennedy Deployed
By: Michael J. Rausch
The Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s training ship will be going to New Jersey to assist in recovery efforts there in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
MMA President Rear Admiral Richard G. Gurnon said that the Training Ship Kennedy is expected to leave around 12:30 PM on Sunday and arrive in Elizabeth City, New Jersey, where it will dock, sometime Monday afternoon. The ship and its non-student crew are expected to spend approximately a month serving as a home base for emergency crews and first responders.
“What this really will be is a safe, floating motel for emergency workers,” he said, listing off National Guard troops, telephone linemen, electric company employees, federal emergency management workers, and other government workers as possible guests aboard the ship.
He said that there are not many hotels in the immediate area where the ship is headed that survived the hurricane, and the ones that did are already filled with homeowners who have no place left to go.
“So it becomes a safe place to put workers for an extended period of time with heat, hot showers and hot food, conveniently located to the emergency,” he said.
The admiral said that he was contacted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon at 5:30 yesterday morning, asking when MMA could get the Kennedy to the area. He said that he told the Pentagon that the ship does not actually belong to MMA, that it belongs to the Maritime Administration and they needed to contact them. The Maritime Administration called at 9 AM and told the admiral to start getting the ship ready.
The engineering staff at MMA immediately began to heat up the ship’s fuel, which the admiral said is “very thick, very viscous crude oil.” He said that normally it takes three days for the fuel to reach the point where it can properly burn and power the ship, but because of the need to get going, they are accelerating the process to just two days.
The ship sleeps 720 people, with 600 in bunks and 120 in state rooms, the admiral said. He noted that the accommodations onboard are “not luxurious” and “very Spartan.”
“But it’s better than a tent, it’s better than a sleeping bag,” the admiral said.
The admiral said that the academy’s cadets will spend Saturday loading the ship with provisions, such as frozen goods, canned goods, perishables and non-perishables, so that when the ship arrives “we’ll be up and ready to go.” He said the exact amount of food that will be loaded onto the ship had not been determined, but he expected it to be “about a dozen trailer trucks full.”
The Kennedy will only be home to emergency responders and will not take on any victims of the hurricane that has devastated the New York and New Jersey coastline.
“This isn’t a hospital ship,” he said, mentioning that the Kennedy does have basic life support capabilities. He said that the area is home to many world class hospitals that were not affected by the hurricane, “so we’re not anticipating any medical relief.”
The ship will leave with approximately 35 crew members. About a dozen academy staff will make the trip, including Chief Mate Robert mi Ford and Chief Engineer William mi Laffan. The admiral said there is not enough academy staff to operate the ship on their own, so the federal government will hire people to fill out the ship’s crew.
“They’re either retired mariners who live in the area, or they’re retired mariners who know the ship well enough they’ll drop what they’re doing and come and help,” he said.
The admiral said that no MMA cadets will be making the trip. He said that while the trip could be valuable experience for students if emergency management “were the only course that they were taking.”
“They’re also taking physics and calculus and chemistry and other things that don’t do well with a whole month’s absence,” he said, noting that if it were summer or semester break, the situation might be different.
“I have students volunteering to go, but their academics have to come first,” he said.
The admiral said that this is the first time the TS Kennedy will have assisted in emergency endeavors. He said that the Kennedy was contacted about helping in relief efforts when an earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010. The ship was three weeks into its annual Sea Term and off the coast of Florida when the call came in.
Responding to the call would have required going back to Florida, offloading the students, and flying them back home.
“It would have aborted the entire Sea Term,” the admiral said, further explaining that it also would have jeopardized graduation for some seniors. He said that the decision was made to instead send several Navy ships.
Admiral Gurnon pointed out that the TS Empire State, which operates out of the State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, has also been pressed into service for hurricane relief. The Empire State, a freighter that has been converted into a training ship, was used as a “floating hotel” during Hurricane Katrina, the admiral said.
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