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Merchant Marine Academy to get training ship

From the deck of Liberty Star, one of

From the deck of Liberty Star, one of two solid rocket booster recovery ships owned by NASA, a crane lowers a one-man submarine into the ocean near Cape Canaveral, Fla. In the fall the U.S. Merchant Marine will be getting the ship for training activities, which will be outfitted and upgraded. Credit: NASA

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point will get a new training ship, replacing the one the school lost several months ago when the federal government transferred its vessel to a university in Texas.

The ship, the MV Liberty Star, once used by NASA to retrieve rocket boosters after space shuttle launches, has advanced towing capabilities and other features that officials said will broaden training opportunities for the more than 1,000 midshipmen at the academy.

"The acquisition of this state-of-the-art training vessel will help us provide the best education and hands-on experience for our future maritime leaders," said Rear Adm. James A. Helis, superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. "There is nothing like real-life experience to facilitate the learning process."

In December, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood moved the academy's training ship, the Kings Pointer, to the Galveston campus of Texas A&M University. At the time, administration officials said the Texas school did not have proper ships on which to train its midshipmen while students at the Kings Point academy can train on merchant ships at sea.

The MV Liberty Star, in Cape Canaveral, Fla., is scheduled to arrive on Long Island in late September or early October for a cadet orientation session, Helis said. Then, in November, the ship will head south to Norfolk, Va., where workers will retrofit it for its new life as a training vessel. Students at the academy may be able to train on the new ship as early as January.

"We're excited about it," said Jim Tobin, president of the USMMA's Alumni Association and Foundation.

Tobin credited LaHood and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) for moving quickly to find another training vessel.

"This past April, when we toured the academy, I asked for three things and today we are batting three for three: we have a new superintendent in place, we were able to increase capital funding in the [Senate] appropriations bill and now we have a new training vessel on its way," Schumer said in a news release. "We are righting this ship not only for the midshipmen currently attending, but for the generations of students who will come."

Midshipmen will be able to conduct training exercises on the new ship for a few hours on the Long Island Sound or take it out to sea for an extended weekend excursion, Helis said.

There will be a ceremony to rename the 176-foot-long ship with a maximum speed of 15 knots, Helis said. The new name -- the Kings Pointer. "That's been the tradition," he said.

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