Philly Shipyard on Friday hosted a keel laying ceremony for the first of up to five new purpose built, state-of-the-art training vessels for America’s state maritime academies.

The new vessels—known as National Security Multi-Mission Vessels (NSMV)—will be owned and operated by U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) and are designed to provide training for America’s future mariners and to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in times of need. The first NSMV is scheduled to be delivered to SUNY Maritime College in 2023.

“Today’s first NSMV keel laying is a critical milestone in an innovative effort that is producing state-of-the-art vessels in an American shipyard that will both train the next generation of American mariners and provide a new disaster response capability for the Nation,” said Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley. “We commend everyone who is working hard to keep this effort on schedule and on budget, and we look forward to the final delivery of the first ship.”

The keel laying is a ceremonial recognition in which the first grand block of the vessel is loaded into the building dock. Keel laying traditions are said to bring good luck to the ship during construction and to the captain, crew and cadets that will sail on the vessel throughout her operating life. 

“As part of shipbuilding tradition, the keel laying ceremony invites good luck in the construction and life of a ship as the first prefabricated block is lowered into the building dock,” said Steinar Nerbovik, President and CEO of Philly Shipyard. “Today, represents a momentous achievement in U.S. maritime education and a significant investment in the local economy and job creation.”

The NSMV supports nearly 400,000 U.S. jobs. Each will be built using 7,000 metric tons of steel produced by U.S. mills and fabricated by skilled labor. The first of four main generator engines, manufactured by Wabtec Corp. in Grove City, Pa., recently arrived at the shipyard and will be lowered into the hull in the first quarter of 2022.

The NSMV will feature numerous instructional spaces, a full training bridge, and accommodations for up to 600 cadets to train in a first-rate maritime academic environment at sea. State maritime academies graduate more than half of all new officers each year—the merchant mariners who help keep cargoes and our economy moving. Many also support U.S. national security by crewing military sealift vessels.

(Image: MARAD)

MARAD selected TOTE Services to be the vessel construction manager (VCM) for the NSMV program in May 2019 to ensure the utilization of best practices in commercial ship construction. In April 2020, TOTE Services awarded Philly Shipyard a contract to construct up to five NSMVs.

“TOTE Services’ contract with MARAD demonstrates a new acquisition process to federal shipbuilding, where the government benefits from commercial best practices to design and construct vessels that are built by union labor in a U.S. shipyard with U.S.-made steel and U.S.-made engines,” said TOTE Services President Jeff Dixon. “Our aim is straight – we’re committed to the success of this program and to delivering these vessels for MARAD, so that our future cadets have the modern training platforms they deserve.”

Congress has appropriated funding to replace aging training vessels at SUNY Maritime College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Maine Maritime Academy and Texas A&M Maritime Academy, respectively. TOTE Services retains an option for a fifth NSMV for the California State University Maritime Academy, if additional funding is appropriated by Congress.

“This historic maritime event is the realization of a vision many years in the making made possible by the partnership between the State Maritime Academy Presidents, the Department of Transportation, the Maritime Administration, and Members of Congress,” said RADM Michael Alfultis, President, the State University of New York Maritime College. “I am grateful to each of them for their efforts and support of this essential program that will shape the maritime industry’s future and improve the education of mariners to come. Our cadets look forward to learning and training on this state-of-the-art vessel.”

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