A Merchant Mariner on the Military Sealift Command fleet
replenishment oiler USNS Tippecanoe waits to receive a
line from the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh in the
Pacific Ocean April 24. In an effort to stem the shortage
of U.S. maritime workers, industry and government are
working together to offer more education and training
programs, and provide greater exposure to maritime
career opportunities to students.
According to teacher Rick Nichols, one of his former students is making $6,000 a month working on an
MSC ship based in Sasebo, Japan.
“These kids are making way more money than
they’d be making around here,” he said.
The looming shortage of mariners has gained attention in Washington. At an Oct. 17 hearing of his subcommittee, Cummings elaborated on some of the challenges in increasing the number of mariners.
“No longer is a sailor’s life necessarily one of adventure, offering a young person a chance to learn about
sailing through on-the-job experiences at sea while
occasionally spending weeks exploring port cities
around the world,” he said. “Deadlines and cost margins
are tight, and ships sail with the fewest possible number
of crew members, who are expected to fulfill multiple
duties while keeping regular watches and who usually
spend no more than a few hours in any port.”
Arthur H. Sulzer, the chair of the Baltimore conference and a board member of the Maritime Academy
Charter School in Philadelphia, underscored Cummings’
remarks during the same hearing.
“Today’s mariner needs to be highly trained, needs
to be dedicated and motivated, and this applies to all
positions onboard ships, not just the master,” he said.
Sulzer added that many of the new security requirements, particularly in the post-9/11 world, have cut off
many of the traditional sources of mariners, namely
immigrants from Africa and Asia.
He said a new influx of potential mariners could
come “from our underserved urban students in
America’s cities, which can use this program as an
opportunity to escape poverty and to find their ways to
good, meaningful careers.
“That’s what I think the maritime high school movement is about,” he said, adding that it is important to
start offering the maritime courses as early as possible
in a child’s education.
One of the problems, Sulzer noted, is that companies will try to recruit 12th graders. But at that point,
he said, “you might as well tell them you want them to
be a Chinese language specialist.”
The Maritime Administration began addressing the
shortage of mariners in 2001, when it co-sponsored a conference with the Coast Guard titled “Maritime Careers:
Creating an Action Plan for Recruiting and Retaining
American Mariners.” Held at the U.S. Merchant Marine
Academy in Kings Point, N. Y., the conference planted the
seeds for starting up maritime schools.
“Through this initiative, we hope to get young men
and women familiar with the opportunities that exist in
the maritime industry, as well as the sea services,” Sean T.
Connaughton, the maritime administrator, told Seapower
in an e-mail. “We hope that this will become a future
source of mariners, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen.”
Sulzer, a lifelong mariner, became involved in maritime education issues in 2003, when the Maritime
Academy Charter School opened in Philadelphia. That
school started with 125 students and now has 700,
with a waiting list of 300, he said.
The schools often focus on different aspects of the
maritime industry, but all share the goal of exposing
students to careers at sea or in port and improving
their overall academic performance should they decide
to pursue another career.
There are four main types of institutions:
■ “Integrated” schools focus on familiarizing students
with nautical terms, customs and history, potentially
making them receptive to further study.
■ “Vocational” schools prepare students to obtain nec-
essary Coast Guard documentation to work at sea.
■ “Apprentice” schools are similar to vocational schools,
but require an at-sea period with a prospective employer.
■ “Academic” schools serve as preparatory schools for
students wanting to attend maritime colleges or serv-