Their ship finally came in.
After years of political wrangling in Washington, Texas A&M University at Galveston on Monday received news it had long hoped for: Congress had approved funding to build a brand new training ship.
As part of the $1.4 trillion appropriation act and COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress on Monday, the U.S. Maritime Administration received $390 million to fund the construction of a 525-foot ship called a National Security Multi-Mission Vessel.
Once built, the ship will be stationed at Texas A&M University’s Pelican Island campus and serve as the primary training vessel for the Texas Maritime Academy.
“This was the impossible dream,” said Texas A&M University Vice President Col. Mike Fossum, who leads the Galveston campus. “Until we have a ship that meets our needs, we’re not a first-rate program.”
Fossum stayed up until midnight Monday as he waited for the Senate vote to approve the 5,000-page spending bill, he said. Reference to funding for the new ship can be found in a single paragraph on page 1,618.
The new ship will feature eight classrooms, a training bridge, laboratories, an auditorium, hospital facilities and a cargo crane and will have the capacity to house up to 600 cadets at one time, Fossum said.
The ship is expected to arrive in Galveston in 2025. Before that, the university will have to make improvements to its waterfront to accommodate larger ships, Fossum said. The school plans to ask the Texas Legislature for funding for those improvements during next year’s legislative session, Fossum said.
Fossum and other Texas A&M University officials have lobbied Congress to give the Pelican Island campus a new ship. The Texas Maritime Academy is one of six federal maritime academies but is the only one without its own large training vessel.
In 2005, the school’s previous large training ship, the Texas Clipper II, left Galveston to support hurricane relief efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The ship, which was federally owned, was then reassigned as an Air Force support vessel.
Since then, the maritime academy has been making do with a much smaller training vessel, the TS General Rudder, and sending its students to serve on other ships to get the training hours necessary to earn their degrees and certifications.
Twice since 2016, the school arranged for the TS Golden Bear, a training ship from the California Maritime Academy, to sail to Galveston so local cadets could complete a training sail together.
But school officials have said those measures weren’t sustainable and were causing Texas A&M University at Galveston students to fall behind their peers at other schools.
The new ship will be able to handle “12 times” what the General Rudder can handle, Fossum said.
The university also has argued the ship is a necessary asset to help with government responses to hurricanes. The new ship could be dispatched to serve as a hospital ship or as housing for recovery workers, Fossum said. The nearest such ships to the Gulf of Mexico are stationed in Massachusetts and New York.
“These ships are at the beck and call of the federal government,” Fossum said of the new Texas A&M University ship and others that have been approved for maritime academies. “There’s no year like 2020 to realize how exposed and vulnerable the Gulf of Mexico is with all the storms this year.”
The Maritime Administration will decide the name of the ship, Fossum said.
But Fossum was holding out hope the government would help Texas A&M University at Galveston adhere to tradition and name the ship the Texas Clipper III.