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USF gets $2-million to start a ship engineering school

Congress has approved $2-million for an Institute for Marine Engineering at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus.

The institute will combine resources from several places _ the Coast Guard, state universities and shipyards _ to develop environmentally safe and fuel-efficient ships.

Tom Hopkins, a professor in USF's Department of Marine Sciences, expects the institute to design "ships of the future" equipped with improved engines and navigational gear to avoid accidents. The institute wants a high-speed computer to analyze information gathered by satellite from the oceans.

"I think the collapse of the Skyway bridge could have been avoided had we had better meteorological equipment," Hopkins said of the 1980 disaster in which a freighter rammed the bridge in foul weather, killing 35.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Rocks Beach, included the money in a defense spending bill approved by Congress and President Bush this week. The state has agreed to spend another $18-million, according to Young's office.

Officials of the Tampa Port Authority wanted the research institute because they think it will help preserve the declining U.S. shipbuilding industry, according to Young's office. The same spending bill includes $58-million for extra costs incurred by Tampa-based American Ship Building Co. on two Navy projects.

USF officials say they put together the proposal in the last few weeks and have not determined when the institute will open or how the initial appropriation will be spent. Ground will be broken this month on a building that will include offices for the institute, USF officials said.

In all, local officials wanted $9.8-million from Congress for the marine institute, so they may ask for more money next year.