BUZZARDS BAY — Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s training vessel, the T.S. Kennedy, departed the dock on Jan. 10 for its annual winter Sea Term three days late and an undisclosed number of sailors short, after predeparture testing produced a wave of positive Covid-19 tests among students and staff.
Capt. Elizabeth Simmons, the academy’s vice president of external affairs, said she did not have “an exact number” of the total positive tests.
Those who tested positive will be joining the ship by tugboat on Jan. 14, according to an email sent to staff and students by Rear Admiral Francis McDonald, the academy’s president.
The ship is bound for a 52-day training cruise, with stops in Puerto Rico, Tampa, Fla., and Charleston, S.C. The 400-odd students on board the 540-foot converted cargo vessel are mostly engineers and deckies, that is, they’re studying marine engineering and marine transportation, which includes the requirement that they complete at least four Sea Terms, spending a minimum of 180 days at sea before graduation.
The trip is no leisure cruise. Students cycle through different jobs, which include standing watch on the ship’s bridge or in the engine room, completing maintenance on deck or down below, and doing scullery duty — washing dishes and grinding down food waste to be discharged overboard. They also take classes and do lab work.
These students are working towards becoming Coast Guard Licensed 3rd engineers and 3rd mates, in hopes of jobs on vessels all over the world, transporting goods or oil, laying internet cables, or conducting research.
Mark Murray, a sophomore deckie who lives in Provincetown and is on board the Kennedy now, said what he most looked forward to was the chance “to get out of my comfort zone and tackle the many different problems that arise while being out to sea.”
The training cruise is scheduled for winter, between terms, although last year, due to Covid, the Sea Term was completed over the summer.
There is concern this year about the possibility of facing Covid cases after the ship completes port visits. The school has already had to cancel a stop in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, because of an uptick of cases on the island.
Cadet Murray told the Independent that being on board with the virus looming “has been a challenge, but health services has done a great job trying to limit its effect on us.”
Simmons said the school is working closely with the Maritime Administration and with each port of call.
“If the past 18 months have shown nothing else,” she said, “it is that we need to have backup plans and be ready to assess and adjust course when needed.”