Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Are Your Options When You Don’t Get the Basketball Scholarship?—free training for a maritime career, if you qualify

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine.

Full article by Fr. Sinclair Oubre, J.C.L., President, Apostleship of the Sea of the United States of America, available at

I have been a member of the U.S. merchant marine since 1978, when I sailed out of Cameron and Berwick, La., as an ordinary seaman. After ordination to the priesthood, I returned to the sea, joining the Seafarers International Union and shipping out in the deck department during my vacations.

Today, I am a pastor of a Catholic parish in Port Arthur, Texas, and a mission church in Sabine Pass, Texas. Since the early 1980s, my community has been crushed by high unemployment and a lack of opportunity for non-college-bound high school graduates.

If Not Basketball, Then What?
Once someone discovers that their athletic skills will not get them a college scholarship, and that their parents are not going to continue to finance their lifestyle, the tough question arises: “What am I going to do?”

Tuition-free Training
Well, if you are at least 18 years old (17 with parental consent), have a high school diploma or GED, and are eligible to work in the U.S., you may be able to join the Seafarers International Union (SIU) and attend its apprenticeship program.

Because the apprentice training, as well as all subsequent training, is paid for through SIU employment contracts, there is no tuition, per se.

FREE?? What’s the Catch?
There are some expenses that the applicant must bear, including:

· an application fee for a merchant mariner document (approximately $155),
· an SIU physical and drug test ($350),
· clothing and supplies (around $450),
· a round-trip ticket.

Additionally, apprentices live under rather stringent rules and regulations. If an apprentice violates one of these general rules, he or she receives a demerit. If one receives seven demerits, that apprentice is dismissed from the school, and gets to use the “return” portion of that round-trip ticket.

Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education
When applicants are accepted as apprentices, they travel to the Washington, D.C. area, where they are transported to the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Md. Here, a World War II Navy torpedo testing facility has been transformed into one of the leading maritime training centers in the United States.

Offering courses from entry level to third mate license, the center includes housing, classrooms, recreational areas, bridge and engine simulators, and a culinary lab.

Graduates are guaranteed up to 120 days of work on an SIU-contracted vessel. Once apprentices have completed the requisite sea time, they can return for upgrading to AB or qualified member of the engine department. Upon completion of upgrading, apprentices become full members of the Seafarers International Union.

Other Opportunities in the Marine Industry
As director of the Port Arthur International Seafarer’s Center, I often get calls from folks unfamiliar with Christian seafarers’ ministry. Most of the time, they just want to get a job “on the boats,” and don’t have a clue how to get in or where to go to get information.

I always find it ironic that the priest is the local expert on how to start a career in the maritime industry.

I always send them to the U.S. Coast Guard’s website for licensing and documentation for information and the forms necessary for the initial application, physical, and drug test for a merchant mariner document.

I will also direct them to the Seafarers International Union Paul Hall Center website if they are interested in an unlicensed deep sea career. Here, they can find information on the tuition-free apprentice program and get an application.

If they are interested in an inland career, I direct them to our local training facility, Two Rivers Marine, for information and training for entry-level positions in the inland industry.

Finally, if the inquirer is looking for officer training, I suggest they investigate the Texas Maritime Academy in Galveston, Texas, or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

About the author:
Fr. Sinclair Oubre has been a member of the United States merchant marine since 1978. He continues to sail part-time each year as an AB-Limited on Seafarers International Union-contracted vessels. Since 1996, he has been the unlicensed deck member of the USCG Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee. In addition, he is a member of the Nautical Institute and the Council of American Master Mariners. He is the pastor of the St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Port Arthur, Texas, and the St. Paul Catholic Mission in Sabine Pass, Texas. In addition, he is the director for maritime ministry (the Apostleship of the Sea) in the Diocese of Beaumont, and the national president for the Apostleship of the Sea of the United States of America.

For more information:
Full article and 124-page “Focus on the Mariner” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at Subscribe online at

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: