By VOICES Staff. 

This June saw nearly 1,500 graduates from the seven U.S. maritime academies of 2024 join the workforce. These men and women are poised to join a 650,000-strong workforce that has proved itself critical to America’s national, homeland and economic security.

The graduates come from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, N.Y.), State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College (Fort Schuyler, N.Y.), California Maritime Academy (Vallejo, Calif.), Great Lakes Maritime Academy (Traverse City, Mich.), Maine Maritime Academy (Castine, Maine), Massachusetts Maritime Academy (Buzzards Bay, Mass.), and Texas A&M Maritime Academy (Galveston, Texas).

Jennifer Carpenter, President of the American Maritime Partnership, emphasized the significance of these new maritime leaders. 

“Merchant mariners are the backbone of our industry, ensuring the safe and efficient transportation of goods across our waterways. We look forward to the innovative and impactful contributions these graduates will make in the years to come,” said Carpenter.

Following graduation, many will serve on vessels in the domestic fleet, which includes over 40,000 vessels ranging from tugboats and barges to tankers and container ships. These graduates join the ranks of nearly 650,000 private U.S. citizens employed in the domestic maritime industry, including fellow graduates and others who have “climbed the hawsepipe” and advanced through the ranks.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in his commencement address at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, highlighted the pivotal role of the Merchant Marine. 

“In the Atlantic, you’re making sure that ammunition reaches Ukrainian soldiers fighting for their freedom. In the Pacific, you’re deterring aggression and upholding freedom of navigation. In the Red Sea, you’re facing down unprecedented attacks against international trade in one of the most vital waterways in the world,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan also outlined the Biden administration’s commitment to bolstering the Merchant Marine, its support of the Jones Act and addressing unfair trade practices from adversarial nations like China

Industry stakeholders have also been working to help grow the next generation of mariners coming from America’s maritime academies. Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc. (OSG) for example has pledged over $90,000 commitment to SUNY Maritime College over the next three years to support women in maritime careers and in addition to other projects affiliated with the Women Offshore Foundation’s Summer Sea Term Scholarship Program

“Gaining more seafarers is critical, and it is our hope that these scholarships will uplift women who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to join the maritime industry,” said Sam Norton, OSG’s President and CEO.

To sail as merchant marine officers, graduates are required to pass the extensive U.S. Coast Guard exam, which covers three days of testing along with the required encyclopedic knowledge of the career path chosen. For that reason, maritime academy cadets supplement their classroom instruction with significant time either on training ships operated by their schools or aboard commercial vessels.

As the U.S. maritime industry evolves to meet the national, homeland and economic security challenges facing the country, the integration of new graduates is critical to fostering a robust workforce for the future.