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Up in the air: A&M ship still in Port Arthur for necessary rudder repairs

By Ken Stickney

ken.stickney@panews.com

A high-ranking Texas A&M at Galveston official said cadets who’ve docked since Wednesday in Port Arthur have kept high spirits, especially bolstered by local professionals and volunteers in Port Arthur.

“It was interesting for me. I expected to find frustrated cadets,” said Mike Fossum, vice president and chief operating officer for the university, who visited the cadets here Sunday. “But there are high spirits on the ship.”

Fossum said cadets are logging required sea days prior to their graduation and Coast Guard certification. Cadets are required to spend time at sea during the summers after their freshman, sophomore and junior years.

“They are getting their sea days while they are in port,” Fossum said, because they are living and working on the ship, the USTS General Rudder. “They are not getting navigation practice, but things happen at sea. You get unscheduled maintenance.

“This is part of their world, too. Ships break, you have to do emergency procedures.

The professional crew and cadets are responding to conditions they are in now,” he said. “They are in a class, because that ship is a classroom.”

He said none of the cadets had seen dry docking operation before.

Right now, Fossum said, the ship is in dry dock at Gulf Copper Yard in Port Arthur while that private company is fixing problems with the rudder. He said the crew, which took the General Rudder out of storage in Beaumont last week, encountered steering problems while traveling last week short distance from Beaumont. He said the ship was towed to the Port of Port Arthur.

“Steering is a major critical system. You can’t repair that while you are at sea,” he said. “We expect her to be underway in the next few days.”

Fossum said the General Rudder has been bolstered by responses and actions by the Port of Port Arthur, Sabine Pilots, the International Seafarers’ Center and the Texas A&M at Galveston Moms, who have brought food to the ship, among others.

Fossum said cadets this summer sailed for 60 days on the USTS Kennedy, which was leased from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Texas A&M’s Maritime Academy has been without an appropriate ship for cadet cruises since 2005, when the academy’s ship was activated for rescue work after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

There are six maritime academies, including one in California, one in the Great Lakes and three in New England. The other academies have appropriate ships.

“Every summer, our students go out to train on those other ships,” Fossum said. “We’ve been able to limp along.”

He said an appropriate vessel in Galveston would enable quicker responses to emergencies in the Gulf of Mexico. He said during Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey, vessels came from the Northeast to provide aid, which took about two weeks for their arrival.

“It’s important for the Gulf Coast region to have disaster response capability here, too,” Fossum said.