Officials christen new Academy ship

Elected officials and administration from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point gathered on the school’s pier on Monday to christen the fifth version of the T/V (Training Vessel) Kings Pointer. 

“The new Kings Pointer is yet another example of this administration’s commitment to ensuring first-rate training and facilities for the academy’s midshipmen,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With this modern vessel, the USMMA will continue to produce the finest mariners in the world, helping ensure our national and economic security.”

The 176-foot long ship, which was formerly used by NASA to recover rocket boosters that fell into the sea, is the fifth vessel to be used by the school to give midshipmen 300 days on a ship during their four years at the academy. 

The previous Kings Pointer had been transferred to Texas A&M University in 2012, leaving the academy without a training vessel in the meantime. 

“It was vital that there be a training vessel on campus,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) said. “It defies logic to think that the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy did not have a training vessel on campus.” 

Schumer said that the midshipmen have the opportunity to travel at sea during their studies at the academy, but the addition of the training vessel made it easier to accommodate every student. 

The ship, formerly called the “M/V Liberty Star” has a two 2,900-horsepower diesel engines, a range of 6,000 miles and a maximum speed of 15 knots, Rear Admiral James Helis said.

“This ceremony is the final step of perhaps the broadest team effort of the many projects undertaken for the academy over the last five years,” Helis said. 

The ship was bought from NASA and was retrofitted at the North Florida Shipyard for its new purpose, at a cost of $3.3 million, according to the academy. 

The ship is the latest investment the Obama administration has made in the academy, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

Foxx said that the Obama administration has spent more than $98 million for the academy since 2009, more than any other administration. Among the improvements made was the updating of Mallory Pier, where the christening was held.

“The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is the crown jewel of my congressional district because of the tradition of service and professionalism of its midshipmen and this institution,” Rep. Steve lsrael (D-Huntington) said. “The new Kings Pointer will ensure that midshipmen continue to receive superb training and preparation for serving our nation.”

The replacement of the academy’s training vessel is a part of the university’s five-year strategic plan, which former transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced in March of 2012. 

After a 2010 federal report outlined the need for $300 million in repairs to the Merchant Marine Academy’s facilities, LaHood said that much of the university’s aging infrastructure would be replaced.

Jan Ryan Helis, wife of James Hellis, the academy’s superintendent, completed the ceremony with the customary smashing of a champagne bottle against the side of the ship.

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