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Cape C Class - Breakbulk

On 12 June 1998 US Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater announced the award of a total of 39 performance-based contracts to 10 American ship-owning and -operating companies to manage 89 ships of the Ready Reserve Force. The total estimated value for the contracts included the expected costs of shipyard work and other maintenance and operational expenses for which the ship managers are reimbursed. Marine Transport Lines, Inc. of Weehawken, NJ was awarded $1,821,710 over 3.25 years for Cape Cod and Cape Chalmers.

Following this announcement of contracts to manage RRF ships in 1998, MARAD independently discovered an error in the award process, and rescinded the contracts. It extended existing contracts to make sure the ships remained mission ready. On 04 May 2000 Maritime Administrator Clyde J. Hart Jr. announced the award of 33 contracts, awarded on a competitive basis, to nine American ship owning and operating companies to manage 74 of the Ready Reserve Force ships. None of the Cape C vessels were included in these new awards. In FY 2000/1 a total of 19 Breakbulk Ships were retired from the Ready Reserve Force as the new and Large Medium Speed Roll-on/Roll-off vessels [LMSRs] were added to the surge fleet.

The term "breakbulk ships" refers to ships characterized by large open hatches and fitted with boom-and-winch gear or deck cranes. They are primarily used at ports which, either because of low cargo volumes or local economic factors, lack the modern facilities and inland rail/highway connections required to support efficient containership operations. In competition with containerships, breakbulk ships are no longer commercially viable. Fewer of these ships are being built each year, and none has been built for US flag owners in recent years. Break-Bulk ships have always been routinely used for deployed and resupply in the past, that is, during WWII, Korea, and Southeast Asia sealift operations. With their open deck, multiple cargo holds, and service by booms and/or cranes, these ships can lift most military cargoes. These are the most versatile ship types for in-the-steam or LOTS-type operations. The military advantages of general cargo or breakbulk ships include flexibility in the load composition afforded by open decks and multiple cargo holds and the ability to discharge cargo without the use of port facilities. Their military disadvantages include time-consuming cargo operations and the requirement for large numbers of trained personnel to load and unload. For these reasons, the break-bulk ships are no longer commercially competitive with the containers and RO/RO ships and are being phased out of the commercial trade routes. The government has purchased many of the newer break-bulk ships and put them into the Ready Reserve Fleet for use in an emergency.

The SS Cape Chalmers is a training ship. The SS Cape Chalmers is one of more than 90 RRF ships of Military Sealift Command. Training consists of classroom and OJT on a Yard and Stay training platform and the SS Cape Chalmers. This provides Navy Cargo Handling Force entry level personnel with the knowledge necessary to develop the basic skills required to perform stevedore duties within a Navy Cargo Handling Battalion.

There are minor variations in specifications among units of this class. Most were discarded in the 1990s, although the details for individual ships are rather fragmentary. The T-AK 5074 Cape Catawba is a unit of the T-AK 284 Northern Light class, despite the "Cape C" nomenclature.

The standard United States Maritime Commission C3 type ship was 492 ft long, 69.5 feet wide, with a 28.5 foot draft, 7,800 gross tons and 12,000 deadweight tons. A total of 465 were built between 1940 and 1947. Most were equipped with a turbine developing 8,500 hp and could do 16.5 knots.

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