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Cape I Class - Ro-Ro

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. Pacific-Gulf Marine, Inc of Gretna, LA was awarded $8,860,450 over 5 years for Cape Isabel and Cape Inscription. Pacific-Gulf Marine was also awarded $9,299,650 over 5 years for Cape Intrepid and Cape Island.

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of contracts to manage RRF ships in 1998, MARAD independently discovered an error in the award process, and rescinded the contracts.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. Crowley Liner Services of Jacksonville, FL was awarded $11,389,276 for Cape Intrepid and Cape Island, and $10,635,988 for Cape Isabel and Cape Inscription.

The Near Term Prepositioning Force (NTPF) was established in April 1980 as an interim means of providing strategic sealift access in the Indian Ocean for the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (now USCINCCENT). Military Sealift Command formed the NTPF with seven ships. MSC chartered the SS Illinois and SS Lipscomb Lykes and renamed these State-class Roll-on/Roll-off ships USNS Mercury [T-AKR 10] and Jupiter [T-AKR 11]. Along with USNS Meteor [T-AKR 9], they supported the equipment of the 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade. Mercury was disposed of by return to owner on 01 April 1993, and Jupiter was disposed of by return to owner on 01 April 1986. Confusingly, the T-AKR 10 and T-AKR 11 designations were subsequently applied to the Cape Island and the Cape Intrepid, which are entirely unrelated ships. To further add to the confusion, the entirely unrelated USNS Mercury (T-AGM 21) was a Missile Range Instrumentation Ships from 1965 to 1976, serving as one of the Apollo-8 Tracking Ships operating from Honolulu HI in December 1968.

A Roll-On/Roll-Off [RO/RO] ship is specifically designed to carry wheeled and tracked vehicles as all or most of its cargo. Vehicles are driven or towed on and off the ship by means of either the ship's own ramps or shore-based ramps. Because it is designed to accommodate cargoes which cannot be stacked but which vary in height, below-deck space and volume utilization is generally less efficient than on a containership. RO/RO ships are thus commercially viable only in certain specialized trades. However, the RO/RO is the preferred ship type for deployment of military unit equipment. The military advantages of RO/RO ships include the capability for rapid loading and discharge of military vehicles and non-self-deployable aircraft, and open deck areas well suited to the carriage of outsized military cargo. Their military disadvantages include their relative unsuitability for carriage of sustaining supplies and ammunition (in comparison with general cargo and containerships) and their limited availability, because their market sector is much reduced compared with containerships.

The RO/RO ship is primarily a vehicle transporter that allows vehicles to drive on or off the ship via ramps. RO/RO cargo includes wheeled, tracked, self-propelled, and towed vehicles and equipment. A series of external and internal ramps facilitate the loading and discharge of RO/RO cargo. To maintain safe operations, the ramp angle for loading/unloading procedures is no greater than 15 degrees. When designing wheeled or tracked equipment, the materiel developer/contractor must allow for adequate clearance underneath the vehicle to prevent contact at the ramp crest/toe for a 15 degree ramp and enough clearance above the vehicle to prevent projection interference problems.

The US Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) activated 13 Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships on 24 January 2003 to support Operation Enduring Freedom, including Cape Isabel, Cape Inscription, Cape Intrepid and Cape Island. The activations follow orders received from the US Navy's Military Sealift Command. The recently-activated ships join 19 others already activated to support Operation Enduring Freedom. These, combined with four others on long-term assignment, brought the total of activated MARAD RRF ships to 36.

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