The SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) has a new training vessel. She is the USNS Freedom Star, a National Defense Reserve Fleet vessel on loan from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD).
She arrived at the Piney Point, Maryland-based maritime training school Nov. 6 with PHC Capt. Allan Tupper at the helm. Tupper was joined by an AMSEA-contracted captain and crew. Prior to her Piney Point mooring, the vessel was docked at MARAD’s James River facility in Jamestown, Virginia.
“The addition of this vessel to our training program is a real game changer,” said PHC Assistant Vice President Bart Rogers. “Having a live platform to train on makes our already-stellar program second to none.
“Already we have the trainees spending the last month of their training schedule aboard the vessel,” Rogers continued. “While on board, they are under the supervision of our full-time crew. The deck people work with the bosun, the engine students go with the engineer and the steward department folks prepare the lunch meal.
“The Freedom Star is a fully functioning platform,” he concluded. “The vast majority of our courses are taught aboard the vessel. Starting in April, we plan to take her out once a month on training missions.”
The Freedom Star replaces the Osprey, a yard patrol type vessel that served as the school’s training platform from 1996 to 2009.
The Freedom Star was built in 1981 by Atlantic Marine Shipyard, Fort George Island, Florida and was delivered as UTC Freedom. Her virtually identical sister ship (also owned by MARAD), the MV Liberty Star, was built in 1980 by the same manufacturer and was delivered as the UTC Liberty. The Liberty Star in 2014 was rechristened as the Kings Pointer and now serves as the official training vessel at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. Before being acquired by MARAD, both vessels were originally owned by United Space Boosters, Inc., of Huntsville, Alabama, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) of Sunnyvale, California.
Originally, the vessels’ common missions involved the at-sea recovery and tow-back of expended space shuttle solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and their associated flight hardware used during launches by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Both the Freedom Star and Liberty Star were used for every shuttle mission. When not required for NASA operations, the vessels were used for other purposes, including mapping the ocean floor with side scan sonar; seismographic studies; marine life and marine fisheries studies; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather buoy deployment and recoveries; cable-laying; underwater search and salvage; Air Force drone aircraft recovery; robotic submarine operations; and numerous support roles for other government agencies, including the Navy. Both vessels participated in the seven-month recovery mission (Jan. 28 through Aug. 28, 1986) following the Challenger accident. Their key function as SRB recovery vessels allowed NASA to reuse the boosters, thereby reducing costs and contributing significantly to the on-going operations of the space shuttle program.
The Freedom Star is of molded steel hull construction. She measures approximately 176 feet in length, 37 feet in width, and 72 feet in height, from the base to the top of the mast. The depth, from the main deck to the keel, is 15 feet; the draft, from waterline to keel bottom, is 12 feet. She displaces 1,052 tons, with gross and net tonnage of 484 and 329 tons; has a 30-ton towing pull capability; and has a cruising range of 6,000 miles and a cruising speed of 15 knots, or 17 miles per hour.