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Military Sealift Command Supports RIMPAC 2020

by Sarah E. Burford, Military Sealift Command Pacific Public Affairs
01 October 2020 The Republic of Korea ship (ROKS) Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (DDG 993) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with the U.S. Navy fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2020. Military Sealift Command’s combat logistic fleet (CLF) oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) and the fleet ocean tug USNS Sioux (T-ATF 171) provided support to 22 multi-national, surface ships participating in the biennial international maritime exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2020 off the coast of Hawaii.

Kaiser conducted 39 underway replenishments-at-sea (UNREP), delivering nearly 4 million gallons of diesel ship fuel, more than 65,000 gallons of aviation fuel and moved 183 pallets of food, supplies and retrograde materials.  

MSC is known for its logistic support to ships at sea, but what makes RIMPAC significant is the sheer volume of the support provided.  According to the Military Sealift Command Pacific Logistics and Operations department,  a ship like Kaiser, serving as the duty oiler in the Hawaii area of operations, could normally perform between 10-20 UNREPs a month. While supporting RIMPAC, Kaiser performed 39 UNREPs over a 15 day period, sometimes as many as six in one day.

The key to meeting the demands of RIMPAC was MSC’s ability to work in concert directly with U.S. 3rd Fleet and Task Force 173. The MSCPAC Combat Logistics Officer (CLO) coordinated the delivery of food and stores, as well as pier-side time at the correct pier for the load-outs of cargo to the specific ships scheduled for later UNREP. 

“RIMPAC is one of the most challenging logistics moves for MSC,” explained Capt. Gabe Varela, Commander, Military Sealift Command Pacific. “We were responsible for delivering fuel and stores to a large volume of ships at sea, both for the U.S. Navy as well as our international friends and allies. This can be very demanding on the CLF ship’s crew, as well as the CLO and the operations teams.  The only way we can make this happen is by ensuring good lines of communications are open and sustained, and that we are working as a team with all the players.”

While Kaiser was supporting logistics operations, Sioux  conducted tow operations, delivering a target for at-sea live fire exercises.

Sioux delivered the decommissioned Navy amphibious cargo ship USS Durham to the target area, via tow, in support of the sinking exercise (SINKEX).

Prior to tow to the target area, Durham was stripped of contaminants, that could compromise sea life or the ocean’s environment, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), transformers and capacitors, trash, float-able materials, mercury or fluorocarbon-containing materials and readily detachable solid PCB items. Petroleum was also cleaned from tanks, piping and reservoirs. After several inspections by the Navy Sea Systems Command Inactive Ships Office, the ships were fitted with towing gear and then put into “Zebra” conditions, where all the water tight doors and hatches were opened to allow water to rush in at the time of sinking. All preparations were in line with guidelines required by the Environmental Protection Agency under a general permit the Navy holds pursuant to the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act.

While Durham was being reduced to a shell of its operational self, the crew of Sioux conducted training on hook-up and release procedures and equipment familiarization.
“For some of our crew members this was their first time towing which is why we spent lots of time training prior to the event,” explained Capt. Joel Bruce, Sioux’s civilian master. “We also conducted an inspection of our equipment to make sure it is in good order and conducted an inspection of the towed vessel. The inspection of the towed vessel was to verify safe and seaworthy condition of the vessel, primary and secondary towing arrangements, testing of flooding alarms, and to let some of our crew become familiar with the arrangement of the ship, in case they need to board it during transit.”

According to Bruce, the tow process began by getting Sioux underway and meeting the towed vessel near the Inactive Ships Yard, where the Durham and the tug boat conducted the initial hookup. Assisted by a pilot and other tug boats, Sioux moved into position to hook up the tow. Once connected, both vessels depart from Pearl Harbor. Once outside of the entrance to Pearl Harbor, Sioux payed out wire and slowly build up speed in order to reach the drop location at the appointed time.  Once in the target zone, Sioux detached the tow, ensured it would remain in the target area, and departed to a safe area to monitor Durham, ensuring it stayed in the target area until the SINKEX.

“We do not tow very often and most of the time there are personnel that have never been involved in a towing operation before on board,” said Bruce. “Experience towing is always a good thing. It also gives those who have never connected and disconnected a tow a chance to experience first-hand. RIMPAC happens once every 2 years and this is most often when we are assigned tow missions, so these opportunities really give tug crews hands on experience.”

Both Kaiser and Sioux completed all their missions successfully and without incident, shining a light on the experience, dedication and professionalism of MSC’s crews.

“The continued professionalism of our CIVMARs, our military members and our civilians really shines in exercises like this,” said Varela. “MSCPAC has a great team and I am very proud of the job they have done.”