Responding to changes made in the Deepwater Port Act earlier this year, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) signed an agreement with Suez Energy that will provide employment and training opportunites to U.S. mariners on Suez’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo vessels.

Suez owns and operates the Distrigas LNG terminal in Everett, MA, and is planning LNG projects offshore Gloucester, offshore Florida and in the Bahamas. The company has four LNG vessels currently, three more under charter and is planning to bring in as many as five more vessels to support its Neptune LNG project offshore Massachusetts, which was given a vote of approval by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday (see Daily GPI, Dec. 20), and other projects. Its vessels sail under Norwegian and Spanish flags and currently employ no U.S. mariners.

In fact, there are no U.S. mariners in the entire international LNG fleet. This agreement is designed to start changing that by providing employment and training for U.S. mariners and cadets so they can obtain the experience and sea time necessary to qualify as LNG officers.

Suez has pledged to employ a mix of U.S.-trained officers and unlicensed mariners on its existing fleet of chartered LNG vessels as well as those under construction and at the Neptune project.

“We have been a leader in the increased importation of LNG into the U.S and have long supported the training of U.S. mariners through programs such as our cadet program with the Massachusetts Maritime Academy,” said Joseph McKechnie, senior vice president of shipping for Suez Global LNG. “Now through this agreement with the Maritime Administration, we look forward to promoting a new level of opportunity within our business for professional U.S. mariners.”

The international (privately owned) LNG shipping fleet is growing 15-20% per year. Today, all LNG ships worldwide are flagged under non-U.S. countries. As a result, the U.S. shipping industry does not currently share in this growing job market.

“The growth of LNG shipments, both to the U.S. and globally, has created an opportunity for American mariners to work on board foreign-flagged LNG vessels. We hope our agreement with Suez sparks a new era of U.S. involvement in the LNG shipping trade,” said Sean T. Connaughton, U.S. Maritime Administrator.

He noted that President Bush signed amendments to the Deepwater Port Act into law earlier this year, requiring the Department of Transportation to reach out and work with applicants for deepwater port licenses to try to find opportunities for American mariners in the LNG trade. The move was designed in part as a security measure but also to create more U.S. jobs. Connaughton said MARAD also is working with other LNG terminal applications on arrangements similar to the one signed with Suez.

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