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Mass. ship deployed to New York to aid in Hurricane relief

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s training ship, the T. S. Kennedy, is being sent to New York City to serve as a “no-frills hotel” for first responders helping the region recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The 540-foot Kennedy, originally built in 1967, was retrofitted to serve as a floating classroom in 2009, and can accommodate up to 710 people.

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The federal government activated the Kennedy to help with hurricane relief efforts today, Admiral Richard Gurnon, school president, said in a telephone interview. The Kennedy produces its own electricity and its own fresh water, which means it will not be a drain on strained resources where millions are without power.

“This will be a no-frills floating hotel,’’ Gurnon said. “It will be able to provide hot showers, light, safety, good food and clean beds.’’

He said the vessel is expected to be used by first responders, utility workers, National Guardsmen and others rushing into the heavily damaged region. He said 600 of the bunks are similar to sleeping cars on trains where each person has a bed with a curtain to draw closed for privacy. About 100 people will live in single or double state rooms, Gurnon said.

The vessel is owned by the US Maritime Administration, which used its authority to bring the ship into federal service today, Gurnon said.

The ship is already in use as a dormitory for 60 seniors at the academy. Gurnon said that the seniors will be housed in area hotels for the next month. The costs of the deployment and hotel costs will be paid for by the federal government.

Gurnon said the professional mariners who staff the vessel have already begun turning on systems on the ship, a process that can take several days. He expects the Kennedy to sail from Bourne on Sunday and to arrive in New York on Monday.

A crew of 30 academy personnel, which includes food services workers, will be on board. He said he expects the deployment to last about a month, and that the vessel will be back in time for the school’s annual Sea Term set for next January.

Cadets will not participate because they can not afford to lose a month of classroom time, Gurnon said.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to help and try to alleviate the suffering that has stricken New York and New Jersey,’’ Gurnon said.

The T.S. Empire State, the training vessel for the State University of New York’s maritime school is also being pressed into service, Gurnon said.

The use of training ships was also done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but did not involve the T.S. Kennedy because the ship was then undergoing repairs.

John R. Ellement can be reached at
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