Lamar State College-Orange announced they are starting a maritime program at the college on World Maritime Day on September 24 at the Pavilion in downtown Orange. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball

David Ball – For The Record

It is now full steam ahead for Lamar State College-Orange’s new maritime program.

The announcement was made on World Maritime Day on September 24 at the Pavilion in downtown Orange. The program will take advantage of Orange’s proximity to coastal waters and train those from Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana to learn the maritime trade.

The Rev. Sinclair Oubre of the Apostleship of the Sea and U.S. Merchant Marine spoke first at the event. He said the first World Maritime Day was observed in 1978 and the merchant marine trace their lineage to 1775.

Oubre said Southeast Texas revolves around offshore drilling, transport of coal and petrochemicals, etc., the Intracoastal Canal, transporting people, barges and push boats.

He also reminded the audience many of the goods coming from overseas probably were transported by mariners.

Looking back, Oubre said Southeast Texas was once a maritime intensive area. There was towing industry here and maritime unions here. In World War II, the casualty count for merchant mariners was high with Southeast Texans killed in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have a rich, rich tradition here,” he said.

All of that started to change, however, in the 1980s and 1990s when American vessels began to be flagged down to other nations or closed down. Unions either consolidated or moved to Houston.

There are now only a few hundred who work the waterfront and the average age for mariners is 50 years old.

“In 10 years there will be a tremendous need. Many will retire and there will be openings,” Oubre said.

He said under the Jones Act, new tankers will be built and there will be thousands of jobs servicing oil rigs.

Oubre said he is an Able-Bodied Limited Seafarer. He recently manned a vessel on his last maritime job that sailed twice from Jacksonville, Fla. to Puerto Rico and back twice for a total of 5,200 miles.

He believes LSC-O creating a maritime program is the first step in the area regaining prowess as a maritime center.

Mike Thomas with Seabulk Towing told the audience the Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange area is the number three port in the U.S. for handling tonnage. However, very few residents here work in the maritime industry.

He said there will be jobs available on and offshore for those who are trained here.

“There’s a ton of opportunity,” Thomas said. “Third and fourth generation in the industry are going away. It’s a lifelong, steady job. There’s no shortage of opportunity; there’s a shortage of personnel. We need people for tugs.”

Nationally, Southeast Texas accounts for 23 percent of refining in the U.S. Without vessels to take the product out, the area will lose out.

Higman Towing as also present at the announcement.

State Rep. Dade Phelan said Beamont, Port Arthur, and Orange  jumped over New York/New Jersey as the number three port in March.

He said he has worked on maritime funding in the Legislature and the program will be great for the maritime industry. He has also worked on funding to obtain a port management program, the first of its kind in the U.S., for Lamar University.

Phelan spoke of a “limitless future” with the completion of the Panama Canal project in the near future and deepening of the Sabine-Neches Ship Channel.

“Lamar State College-Orange is in a prime position to train the workforce of the future in a growing community that will attract more smart, young people,” he said. “It’s something we can all be proud of.”

Mike King, superintendent of the Bridge City ISD, said he worked offshore supplies boats when he was younger.

His district is offering more Career and Technical Education courses through a high school partnership with LSC-O.

He said the Legislature has put “its money where its mouth is” with programs such as the maritime program that will be introduced to Bridge City High School.

“I’m thankful to Lamar State College-Orange and the Legislature,” King said.

Michael Shahan, president of LSC-O, said Father Oubre “preached” about an inspired program. Rep. Phelan came through with the funding that got LSC-O the program and also for the new Allied Health Building, and the constructing of a new multipurpose building. Shahan also thanked State Sen. Robert Nichols for his efforts.

Shahan said the college’s goal is to offer career oriented programs that are tied in to the workforce needs of Southeast Texas so students can be employed in the local economy.

“The maritime program works perfectly for what we want to do. There are very good salaries in the maritime industry- from $45,000 to $75,000 a year. There’s a lot of upward mobility. It’s a great move for us,” he said.

Shahan said LSC-O will start modestly with a basic maritime training course and add additional courses later. Courses will start to be offered possibly the Summer and definitely the Fall of 2016.

A consultant was hired for the initial step and a director will be hired at a later date.

Shahan said the idea for a maritime program began after a lunchtime conversation with Oubre.