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Training ship returns from New Orleans

State of Maine spent two months accommodating relief workers in Hurricane Katrina cleanup

State of Maine spent two months accommodating relief workers in Hurricane Katrina cleanup

Maine Maritime Academy’s 500-foot training vessel, State of Maine, returned to the college Nov. 22 after spending two months stationed in New Orleans as part of the post-Katrina relief effort. Although many students were home for Thanksgiving break at the time, a modest number of faculty and friends welcomed back the ship and its crew.

“It was rewarding for us to be able to do something like that,” says State of Maine master Larry Wade. “We housed some really incredible people down there. We were all glad to be able to help.”

The U.S. Maritime Administration activated the State of Maine, which it owns, on Sept. 3 to provide living and office space for workers repairing docks and re-establishing marine navigation. Four days later, with approximately 45 crew on board, the ship set off, made a brief stopover in Boston, and arrived in New Orleans Sept. 17, tying up at the Seventh Street Wharf the following day.

“When we were coming up the Mississippi River, all we saw was complete devastation,” recalls Wade, who is 63. “The lower parishes were in ruins. Brick school buildings were so damaged you could see right through them. Boats and barges were thrown all over, were piled up behind the levees. Where there was flooding, there was serious damage.

“In the first three weeks we were there, none of us went more than 100 yards away from the ship,” he adds. “National Guardsmen were everywhere. Everything was flooded. There wasn’t any place to go. Things improved slowly. Gradually, we were able to go out to ride a bike or whatever. We saw first-hand the progress that was being made.”

Over the two months in New Orleans, the State of Maine housed hundreds of workers, and crewmembers helped serve more than 35,000 meals, Ward says. When space was available, Homeland Security officials, Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives and Coast Guard personnel were also accommodated.

A total of eight ships from the Maritime Administration’s National Defense Reserve Fleet were sent to New Orleans to help out. Among them were the State University of New York Maritime Academy’s training ship, Empire State, and the Texas Maritime Academy’s training ship, Sirius.

The State of Maine, which is on permanent loan to the Maine Maritime Academy, serves as the college’s primary training platform for students pursuing a Coast Guard officer’s license as a third mate or third assistant engineer. Some 70 students live aboard the ship during the school term. School officials had to find those students alternative places to stay when the ship was in New Orleans.

“We had mixed emotions when we found out she was ordered to go to New Orleans,” says academy president Leonard Tyler. “Mainly, we thought it was great that a training ship can do something different and help out in a crisis situation, but we were faced with finding new housing for our students. With some creative thinking, though, we were able to have them stay comfortably in the dorms. It all worked out.”

Another obstacle administrators faced was replacing members of the ship’s crew, in the deck and engine departments, who teach a number of introductory courses at the college. “We had to replace them with adjunct faculty while they were gone,” explains Tyler. “It was an issue but was taken care of.”

Administrators hope to throw a more formal welcome back ceremony in January when the students can attend. “We plan to have the head of the Maritime Administration come and present a plaque to the school and to the crew,” Tyler says. “It’ll be nice.”