River Bell Awards Cause for Celebration

Dec 15, 2008

Not only did the 9th Annual River Bell Awards Luncheon at the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) Center in Paducah, KY raise nearly $150,000 to support Ministry on the River, SCI’s program of pastoral care to inland river mariners, but also three very important announcements were made about the future of SCI and the inland river community. Leaders from Ingram Barge Company and AEP River Operations revealed that their companies would lead the effort to fund important upgrades to the simulators in Paducah. Also, in large measure because of this improvement to SCI’s Paducah facilities, RADM James Watson of the United States Coast Guard announced that the Paducah Center would become a Center of Expertise (COE), an honorable distinction as a top training center for the USCG. The third announcement came from the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company regarding upgrades to SCI’s fire-fighting simulator.

Upgrades to the Center’s simulation Center come on the heels of significant funding from West Kentucky Workforce Investment Board in August of this year. The upgrades pledged from leading United States river transportation companies fund subsequent phases of the simulator upgrade planned by SCI. Mark Knoy of AEP River Operations said at the Luncheon, “This improvement to the simulator will put SCI’s training ahead of any simulator in the world—both technologically and conceptually—with direct benefits to our industry.”

SCI works closely with river industry companies to ensure that technology at its Centers in Paducah and Houston meet growing needs of training. In 2008, SCI trained over 1,100 mariners at its Center for Maritime Education in Paducah.

All computer hardware, software and radars will be replaced, and with the replacements, new towboat models can perform operations previously not possible with existing technology. The upgrades enable the simulators to replicate light boat work and close maneuvering. Existing geographical databases will be updated as part of this upgrade, including the creation of a new Paducah, KY database. Also, with new technology comes a strengthened capacity for river security, using simulation equipment to meet current and future needs for this type of training.

Craig Philip of Ingram Barge Company and Mark Knoy of AEP River Operations will solicit other companies for additional financial support for the capital improvements. Their principal co-sponsorship, however, enables SCI to purchase and implement upgrades immediately—scheduled to go live in the second quarter of 2009. Ingram Barge Company and AEP River Operations have guaranteed an estimated $1 million for hardware, software, and related database development. This builds on the earlier Western Kentucky Workforce Board’s grant to replace the simulator’s projection systems.

These upgrades were a significant “selling point” for the USCG to establish a COE in SCI’s Paducah facility, according to the Rev. David M. Rider, President and Executive Director of SCI. River transportation companies and SCI worked with USCG counterparts to accomplish this goal. The COE announcement came from Rear Admiral James Watson, Director of Prevention Policy for the United States Coast Guard. Rear Admiral Joel Whitehead, Commander of the 8th District for the Coast Guard, was scheduled to be present, but due to inclement weather, he was unable to attend.

The Coast Guard launched its first Center of Expertise, an initiative included in its Marine Safety Performance Plan, for the cruise ship industry in Miami, FL in November of this year. It was the first of announcements, establishing several Centers of Expertise located throughout the country. According a USCG press release, each Center of Expertise will focus on a specific segment of the maritime industry. Paducah’s USCG Towing Center of Expertise will have oversight for the western rivers of the United States.

USCG officers will be billeted at Paducah by mid-year 2009 with additional staffing in 2010. The COE will serve to ensure safe towing operations along the river and as a training center for matters related to river safety and enforcement.

“This is very exciting news for the City of Paducah, an important and historic river community, and, indeed, for the entire river industry,” said SCI’s Executive Director. “SCI tries to be a leader in maritime education, and the establishment of this COE is a major step forward.”