A glimpse at a map of the United States shows us that we are a maritime nation. To the east is the Atlantic Ocean; to the west, the Pacific; off our southern border, the Gulf of Mexico; in the north, the Great Lakes; and crisscrossing our states, great rivers like the Mississippi and other inland waterways.
Every hour of every day, ships of all types ply the waters in and around our nation. They leave our ports laden with U.S. goods bound for foreign markets, or arrive in our harbors with merchandise and materials for American consumers.
There are tankers traveling along the west coast with raw petroleum for our refineries; Great Lakes vessels loaded with iron ore, coal or other minerals for America’s industry; huge containerships in Eastern ports, their box-like containers filled with manufactured goods; general cargo ships in the Gulf unloading pallets of coffee and crates of fruit; tugboats pushing and pulling barges carrying the Midwest’s grain.
These kinds of vessels, owned by U.S. companies, registered and operated under the American flag, comprise the U.S. Merchant Marine. This fleet of highly productive ships is a major part of our system of commerce, helping guarantee our access to foreign markets for sale of our manufactured goods.
Moreover, in time of war or national emergency, the U.S. Merchant Marine becomes vital to national security as a “fourth arm of defense.” Our merchant ships bear the brunt of delivering military supplies overseas to our forces and allies. The stark lessons of national conflict prove that a strong merchant marine is an essential part of American sea power.
The nation’s economic and security needs met by the U.S. Merchant Marine are compelling. Today, the United States imports approximately 85 percent of some 77 strategic commodities critical to America’s industry and defense. Although we, as a nation, account for only six percent of the world population, we purchase nearly a third of the world’s output of raw materials. Ninety-nine percent of these materials are transported by merchant vessels.
A ship at sea does not operate in a vacuum. It depends on a framework of shoreside activities for its operations. This industry includes companies which own and manage the vessels; ports and terminals where cargo is handled; yards for ship repair; services like marine insurance underwriters, ship chartering firms, admiralty lawyers, engineering and research companies; and increasingly today, intermodal systems of trucks and railroads to distribute goods around the country.
But the most important element in a productive merchant fleet and a strong transportation industry is people-men and women who are intelligent, dedicated, well- educated and competent.
The purpose of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is to ensure that such people are available to the nation as shipboard officers and as leaders in the transportation field who will meet the challenges of the present and the future.
The Academy is located in Kings Point, New York. Its 82-acre waterside campus lies on Long Island’s north shore, about 20 miles east of New York City.
The Academy is a national institution, operated by the Federal Government’s Maritime Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Academy’s four-year program centers on a regimental system that instills its students - called Midshipmen (a term used for both men and women) - with the traits of leadership, discipline and dedication required for a career that typically may include service at sea, maritime employment ashore, and serving as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The Academy’s Regiment of Midshipmen numbers approximately 950 young men and women who represent every state of the Union as well as U.S. Trust Territories and Possessions. The size of the student body contributes to a true sense of camaraderie among the members of the Regiment and permits the Academy to maintain an excellent student-teacher ratio.
A sound college education is the foundation for every profession in our society and the mariner’s profession is no exception. Elements of the academic program provide all Midshipmen with the specialized training and education for success as U.S. Coast Guard-licensed merchant marine officers, in compliance with the requirements set forth in the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) 1978, as well as the STCW Code in subsequent related amendments. The curriculum at the Academy provides each Midshipman with the broad college education required for a Bachelor of Science degree. The military knowledge necessary for commissioning in a reserve component of the Armed Forces rounds out the academic program. Few colleges can offer such a full range of credentials at graduation.
The Academy challenges its Midshipmen intellectually and physically. The academic program is demanding, the regimental system rigorous. Freshman (fourth class or plebe) year is particularly strenuous as students make the transition from high school graduate to Academy Midshipman. In their first few months, they learn many new terms, the quality of endurance, how to perform under pressure, and most importantly, how to successfully manage time.
During sophomore (third class) year, and again during junior (second class) year, Midshipmen are sent to sea for practical shipboard training. Aboard ship, sailing the trade routes of the world, they learn the value of self-reliance and initiative as they gain first hand experience in the mariner’s environment. In their senior (first class) year, they fine tune the skills learned in the classroom and at sea as they prepare to enter the professional world.
Enrollment at the Academy requires many personal sacrifices, but the goal is worthwhile. Students must be prepared for numerous demands on their time, a degree of stress, and some limitations on their personal freedom. In return, the Academy develops leaders and prepares its graduates for careers that are bounded only by their talents and desire.
The Academy is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (267) 284-5000, http://www.msche.org.
Federal involvement in maritime training is more than a century old. Since the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. Government has initiated various programs to train its citizens for service in the merchant marine. The Academy, dedicated in 1943, represents the realization of these efforts. Between 1874 and 1936, diverse federal legislation supported maritime training through scholarships, internships at sea and other methods. A disastrous fire in 1934 aboard the passenger ship MORRO CASTLE, in which 134 lives were lost, convinced the U.S. Congress that direct federal involvement in efficient and standardized training was needed.
Congress passed the landmark Merchant Marine Act in 1936, and two years later, the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps was established. The first training was given at temporary facilities until the Academy’s permanent site in Kings Point, N.Y. was acquired in early 1942. Construction of the Academy began immediately, and 15 months later the task was essentially completed. The Academy was dedicated on September 30, 1943. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, noted at that time that “the Academy serves the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis the Navy.”
World War II required the Academy to forego normal operation and devote all of its resources toward meeting the emergency need for merchant marine officers. Enrollment rose to 2,700, and the planned course of instruction was reduced in length from four years to 18 months. Notwithstanding the war, shipboard training continued to be an integral part of the Academy curriculum, and Midshipmen served at sea in combat zones the world over. One hundred and forty-two Midshipmen gave their lives in service to their country, and many others survived torpedo and aerial attacks. By war’s end, the Academy had graduated 6,634 officers.
World War II proved that the Academy could successfully meet the needs of a nation in conflict. As the war drew to a close, plans were made to convert the Academy’s wartime curriculum to a four-year, college level program to meet the peacetime requirements of the merchant marine. In August 1945, such a course was instituted.
The Academy has since grown in stature and has become one of the world’s foremost institutions in the field of maritime education. In 1949, Congress granted the Academy authorization for awarding the degree of Bachelor of Science to graduates; the Academy was fully accredited as a degree-granting institution that same year. It was made a permanent institution by an Act of Congress, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1956.
The Academy’s national value was again recognized as it accelerated graduating classes during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and for its involvement in such programs as training officers of the first U.S. nuclear-powered merchant ship, the SAVANNAH.
Admission requirements were amended in 1974 and the Academy became the first federal service school to enroll women students.
During the first Persian Gulf conflict in early 1991, and for many months prior to the war, both Academy graduates and Midshipmen played key roles in the massive sealift of military supplies to the Middle East. Midshipmen training at sea have since participated in the sealifts to Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
While the Academy’s curriculum has changed dramatically since 1943 to reflect the technological advances of America’s merchant marine, the institution has maintained its unswerving commitment to quality education and excellence among its Midshipmen.