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Agreement requires a US presence aboard tankers

As graduates celebrate, deal is announced

BOURNE -- One-fourth of tanker crews must be made up of Americans before their ships will be allowed to use two liquefied natural gas terminals being planned off Massachusetts, under an agreement intended to reduce fears of terrorist attacks and spur economic growth, a federal official said yesterday.

Sean T. Connaughton, a US Maritime administrator, said the deal negotiated by his agency would make available to Americans thousands of lucrative jobs in the gas shipping industry, which is currently dominated by foreign crews. He also said it would enhance security as the ships unload their highly flammable payloads, which some say could be targeted by terrorists.

"There's obviously a great deal of public concern about the security of LNG vessels, and one way to deal with that is to have Americans aboard those ships," Connaughton said before commencement exercises at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy yesterday.

Rear Admiral Richard G. Gurnon, president of the academy, said American officers on the ships will have to be licensed by the Coast Guard and pass a drug test and a detailed background check.

"These are foreign-flagged ships staffed by foreign mariners -- they could be Russians, they could be Croats, they could be Indonesians," Gurnon said.

"At least if you have American officers on board, you have people who have been vetted and cleared with security and who are, I believe, more likely to render a safer delivery," he said.

Connaughton said the agreement was negotiated this spring with Excelerate Energy, which is building a terminal 13 miles off Gloucester, and with Suez Energy, which has proposed a terminal in a shipping channel in Fall River.

Governor Deval Patrick and a majority of the Massachusetts Senate had written to the federal agency asking that Americans be placed on the ships, Connaughton said.

"We're thrilled," Patrick said after delivering the academy's commencement address.

"This is something that we sought the federal administration's cooperation on for reasons of security and for opportunities for American mariners, and we're delighted to have the support of the administration."

The deal will not affect the existing terminal in Everett, which is regulated by a separate agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Connaughton said.

Connaughton said the deal would benefit trained mariners, such as the 220 who graduated yesterday from the academy.