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House spending bill includes funding for new state-of-the-art training ship for Texas A&M

A state-of-the-art training vessel proposed for Texas A&M University cleared a key hurdle Friday as the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year that included funding for the project.

The $389 million, 525-foot vessel would be outfitted with several training spaces, including eight classrooms, a training bridge, lab spaces, and an auditorium. The ship would will be docked at Texas A&M University's maritime academy in Galveston and would be able to take 600 cadets out to sea, a vast improvement over the university's current training ship, the General Rudder, which can only fit 50 cadets.

The funding for A&M's new training vessel was included in the $1.3 trillion package of House appropriations bills with heavy, bipartisan support from Texas's Congressional delegation. The bill passed out of the House on Friday and will eventually be considered by the U.S. Senate.

The proposed ship is one of a handful of new "National Security Multi-Mission Vessels," the U.S. Maritime Administration is developing to replace the aging fleet of training vessels used by the state maritime academies across the country. The maritime academy in Galveston hasn't had its own training ship large enough to accommodate its 300 students since its previous ship, the Texas Clipper II, was converted to a missile defense ship by the Department of Defense in 2005. The academy is currently using a training ship owned by the federal government and operated by the University of California maritime academy to house its full crew of cadets.

John Sharp, the chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, said in a phone interview Friday that the ship is desperately needed, not only for cadet training, but as a hurricane relief vessel for the Gulf of Mexico. The ship would stand ready to be deployed in the event of a hurricane or other disaster. It could reach any point in the Gulf within a day or two, compared to weeks or more from training ships docked elsewhere in the United States.

Sharp noted that after Hurricane Harvey battered southeast Texas in 2017, the state had to rely on other maritime academy ships to bring food and medical supplies to affected areas.

"If we had our own ship, that ship could be out in blue water when the hurricanes hit and immediately bring in supplies on the Gulf Coast," Sharp said.

The new NSMV ship has the capacity to house up to 1,000 federal emergency management workers, serve as a hospital or use its roll-on/roll-off ramp to deliver supplies.

Sharp said he was confident that funding for the ship would be included in the final spending package that comes out of Congress, noting it has the strong support of both of Texas's senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet released its spending bill for the 2021 fiscal year.

"We're hoping Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Cruz will deliver it in the Senate and finally get the ship for Texas's needs and Galveston's needs," he said.

nick.powell@chron.com

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