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UNITAS Multinational Ships Rehearse Refueling At Sea

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS120924-19

By LT. Stephanie Homick

CARIBBEAN SEA (NNS) -- Eleven multinational warships participating in a maritime exercise hosted by U.S. 4th Fleet practiced replenishing at sea with U.S. supply ship USNS Patuxent (T-AO 201) and Canadian supply ship HMCS Preserver (AR-8) in the Caribbean as part of UNITAS Atlantic (LANT), Sept. 23.

The ships, from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were divided into two groups, five ships rehearsing with Patuxent and six with Preserver.

Patuxent and Preserver started out in front of their respective group of ships, steaming at 13 knots. They then directed, via radio communications and flag hoists, each ship to come alongside in order to be positioned to receive lines for fuel.

The supply ship "gives you a signal via FLT TAC [Fleet Tactical], which is a like a radio or telephone signal," said Ensign Clarissa Carpio, Underwood's junior officer of the deck and the ship's 1st Lieutenant, responsible for refueling evolutions such as this one. "They give us a signal of where they want us stationed and then after that point, we use the flag hoists. That will determine when we'll go alongside and when the oiler is ready for us."

The ships approached either Patuxent or Preserver at 25 knots. Once alongside, they matched speeds at about 13 knots. When ready to depart and break off, the ships went flank speed ahead for 30 knots and turned away from the supply ship.

The ships did not actually receive fuel during today's event nor were any lines exchanged between ships.

"We [U.S. Navy] do this quite often, but our partner nations do not," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Miguel Aponte, the officer of the deck during the evolution aboard USS Underwood (FFG 36). "When you do a rehearsal, you get to go through all the motions of bringing the ship in close proximity to another ship without having to do all the extra stuff, like rigging the span wire or sending the hoses across the deck, which brings along its own challenges. By doing a dry rehearsal we can practice approaching and breaking away from the refueling ship."

In the two separate groups, the ships sailed in a two-line formation behind their respective supply ships and when directed by the supply ship crew, came alongside to take station. After demonstrating proficiency in maintaining correct position, the ships pulled away and turned around to rejoin the back of their formation. This was repeated for the entire three-hour event.

"I think it [the evolution] went well," said Carpio. "In our group of six ships, we had two foreign [Mexican and Colombian] ships. They did well coming into station and they understood all the signals."

"The evolution went very smoothly," said Aponte. "We ended up doing two approaches: one on the starboard side and one on the port side."

Two actual refueling evolutions will occur later this week and ships will be afforded the opportunity to top off their tanks before the end of the exercise.

UNITAS is the longest running and largest maritime exercise in this hemisphere and is hosted by Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, Commander of U.S. 4th Fleet. The twelve-day long exercise will entail a variety of operations intended to enhance inter-operability between the partner nations.

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