Preserving the Past Through Maritime Heritage Grants

By Denise Krepp 2014-07-07 14:15:00

USS Mount Hood (AE-29) was a Kilauea-class ammunition ship in the United States Navy.

Last month the Maritime Administration and the National Park Service announced that the government would be awarding $1.7 million in maritime heritage grants this year. The money does not come from new appropriations. Rather, the funds come from the sale of excess government vessels. This novel approach ensures that the past is preserved with limited impact on current taxpayers’ purses.

The Maritime Administration is responsible for maintaining the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF). This fleet, located in Suisun Bay, California; James River, Virginia; and Beaumont, Texas, provides reserve capability for the military. In 1950 the fleet was comprised of 2,277 vessels. It has shrunk considerably and now consists of just 122 vessels. 

When vessels leave the NDRF they are recycled in facilities located in California, Texas and Louisiana. These facilities employ hundreds of people. One of them, EMR Southern, is located in the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the same area that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The facility survived Mother Nature's onslaught and is currently recycling former U.S. Navy vessels.

U.S. ship recycling employees work in hot but safe conditions, a dramatically different environment from their fellow workers in India. Last week, five people were killed and ten injured at an Indian shipbreaking facility in Alang. Additional workers died in April. Sadly, Indian workers take apart ships barefooted, by hand, and without the safety equipment utilized by Americans.

Recycling the Lessons of the Past

Recycling NDRF vessels is a money-making endeavor for the U.S. government. A portion of the sales funds state maritime academies. Another portion funds the MARAD and NPS maritime heritage grant programs. Students have learned about North Carolina pirates, Great Lakes schooners, life in a lighthouse, and pirogues in Louisiana.

The grand old ladies that funded these grants included the USS Mount Hood, the USS Ponchatoula, and the USS Kawishiwi. The USS Ponchatoula assisted with the Mercury and Gemini space flights. The USS Kawishiwi resupplied the U.S. Seventh Fleet during the Vietnam War. The USS Mount Hood, an ammunition ship, participated in the Vietnam Ceasefire Campaign. Each one served honorably, and each one's legacy is increased awareness of the country's maritime heritage.

For over two hundred years our country has celebrated its maritime heritage. The “Star-Spangled Banner's” lyrics are based on Francis Scott Key's observation of the British Naval bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Bombs burst in the air in September 1814, but at the end of the siege our flag still stood. Every day, U.S. school children commemorate this battle when they sing the national anthem.

The maritime grants awarded at the end of this year will instill greater knowledge of the country's maritime history. From the Battle of Baltimore to today, thousands of men and women have proudly served in Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, and other parts of the maritime industry. Their stories will be told and, best of all, these stories will be funded by good American jobs and at no cost to the taxpayer. – MarEx