SUEZ LNG Announces Agreement with MARAD to Provide Job Opportunities for U.S. Mariners on SUEZ LNG

On Wednesday, the details of a groundbreaking agreement designed to provide seagoing employment for US mariners were provided to a wide range of industry journalists. The conference call announcement, arranged by SUEZ LNG NA LLC (SUEZ) and the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD), came in the wake of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s approval of SUEZ’s Neptune LNG Deepwater Port project off the coast of Massachusetts. During the conference call, SUEZ Senior VP of Shipping Joseph McKechnie said that the deal will lead the way in promoting job opportunities for U.S. mariners on board LNG vessels.

Other participants in the conference call included U.S. Maritime Administrator Sean T. Connaughton and Tom Bushy, Vice President of Marine Operations at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA), Captain Richard Egan, the new head of Shipboard Training and Career Services at Kings Point and Captain George Sandberg, Head, Department of Marine Transportation, also from Kings Point.

McKechnie began by saying that SUEZ was pleased with the approval of Neptune’s Massachusetts project by Bay State governor Mitt Romney. Connaughton then echoed those sentiments, congratulating Suez Energy and also recognizing that there was one other applicant (Excelerate Energy's Northeast Gateway) that had received the “go-ahead” from Massachusetts, as well.

Connaughton was particularly effusive with his praise of Suez Energy’s “very aggressive” efforts to use US mariners and potentially provide cadet berths, on Suez vessels. He also noted that the Deepwater Port Act requires the Department of Transportation to work with applicants for deep water licenses to find berths for Americans. He went on to say that the deal “fulfills the statutory intent of the law and brings to the forefront issues regarding US mariners in other places and with other license applications.” McKechnie then vowed to “Begin immediately using qualified US mariners, as available” on Neptune LNG carriers. He later cautioned that qualified US mariners may be in short supply. The US merchant fleet today has no active LNG carriers, none under construction and no concrete plans to build any.

None of Suez’ current fleets of vessels are US flagged, and McKechnie admitted that there are no plans at this time to reflag any of them. He said that they were currently registered in Norway and Spain. Regarding the legality of US officers serving and achieving license time via their possible future billets on board the LNG vessels, Connaughton told reporters that Norway and the United States already have such reciprocal agreements in place and that efforts were underway to make sure that this reciprocity is tailored to LNG, as well.

When asked if it was fair to characterize the potential seagoing opportunities as entry level only, McKechnie said only that SUEZ hopes to employ US mariners at all levels, but that “there will be recency issues” with US mariners who may not have stepped on the bridge of an LNG vessel in more than twenty years. Still, he was upbeat about the potential for partnering with MMA and Kings Point in developing future talent. On Wednesday, there was real excitement about the agreement on both campuses.

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy is, perhaps, as well positioned as anyone to take advantage of this historic agreement. With the proposed deepwater port just a stone’s throw from MMA’s Buzzard’s Bay campus, MMA’s Tom Bushy declared, “MMA is thoroughly delighted with the Suez / MARAD agreement. This is a ‘win-win’ situation for everyone.” Both USMMA participants echoed Bushy’s statements and Bushy continued, “MMA is developing a ‘Kings Point’ model for LNG training which is to be proposed to the US Coast Guard for approval.” The Merchant Marine Academy already has such a program in place and Egan told reporters that 40 students had already graduated from the program. And the Maritime Administrator reminded everyone that mariners can get LNG training at other professional training schools in the United States, as well.

With the approvals from Massachusetts in place, the Maritime Administration now has 45 days in which to formulate their “Record of Decision.” That Record of Decision, if it contains approvals from MARAD, will come with conditions. Connaughton said that once the conditions are met, then a license could be issued.

According to their own press release of 20 December, SUEZ Energy North America, Inc. is based in Houston and is the business unit of SUEZ Energy International responsible for managing SUEZ’s positions within the energy value chain in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, including electricity generation and cogeneration, natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG), asset-based trading and origination, and retail energy sales and related services to commercial and industrial customers.

SUEZ Energy North America owns and/or operates a total of 45 power, cogeneration, steam, and chilled-water facilities, including those in construction or development, representing a capacity of more than 5,538 MW of electricity generation, 6.4 million pounds per hour of steam, and 61,749 tons per hour of chilled water. SUEZ Energy North America’s wholly owned subsidiary, Distrigas of Massachusetts, owns and operates a liquefied natural gas receiving terminal in Everett, Mass., which began operations in 1971 and currently serves most of the gas utilities in New England and key power producers, meeting approximately 20 percent of New England’s annual gas demand.