Philly Shipyard Lays Keel for First New MARAD Training Ship

keel laying for US training ship
Keel laying ceremony for the future Empire State training Ship (Tote Services)

Published Dec 10, 2021 3:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

MARAD’s National Security Multi-Mission Vessel program marked a key milestone today with the keel laying of the first of the vessels on order to modernize the training capabilities at the U.S.’s state-sponsored maritime academies. The goal is to provide modern training ships for America’s future marines and in times of crisis, the vessels will also support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

First announced by MARAD in 2017, the project currently has four vessels on order to all be built at Philly Shipyard in Pennsylvania with Tote Services acting as the construction manager for the project. The first of the four vessels, for which construction began in December 2020, is scheduled for delivery to New York’s SUNY Maritime College in 2023 followed by two vessels in 2024 for Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Maine Maritime Academy. The fourth vessel, due in 2025 has been assigned to Texas A&M Maritime Academy, and a fifth vessel, if funded by the U.S. Congress, would be assigned to the California State University Maritime Academy.

“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 first keel block for the future Empire State training ship was lowered into the drydock mid-morning, today December 10. The overall project is viewed as an important investment in America’s shipbuilding industry. Each NSMV will be built using 7,000 metric tons of steel produced by U.S. mills. The first of four main generator engines, manufactured by Wabtec Corp. also recently arrived at the shipyard and will be lowered into the hull in the first quarter of 2022. Fabrication for the second of the vessels also commenced in March 2021.

The program also represents a significant improvement in the training for future mariners. MARAD historically has provided ships from the National Defense Reserve Fleet as training vessels for the six state maritime academies. The schools have had to conduct their training on retired, and often worn-out, ships. MARAD is currently working to replace these older ships with new, purpose-built training vessels that will better meet the academies' training needs.

Speaking at today’s keel laying event, RADM Michael Alfultis, President, the State University of New York Maritime College, said "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. 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."


Rendering of the future Empire State training ship (MARAD)


Each of the vessels will measure 525 feet in length with an 89-foot beam. They are designed with a sailing range of more than 10,000 miles at 18 knots. Each vessel has bow and stern thrusters and a modern diesel power plan that includes four engines split between two engine rooms. The NSMV will feature numerous instructional spaces, a full training bridge, and accommodations for up to 600 cadets.

In addition to being an educational platform, the vessels are designed to fulfill numerous additional roles. The NSMV can support the federal response to national disasters such as hurricanes, with state-of-the-art hospital facilities, a helicopter landing pad, and the ability to berth up to 1,000 people in times of humanitarian need. Alongside its humanitarian capacities, the NSMV has a roll-on/roll-off ramp and container storage allowing it to provide aid to damaged ports.

“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.”