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A consortium called FastShip Atlantic, Inc. is building four container vessels to transport high-value, perishable, and other time-sensitive cargo at twice the speed of conventional ships. It will make the trans-Atlantic crossing from Philadelphia to Cherbourg, France, in less than four days, and provide door-to-door service between the US Midwest and Central Europe (e.g., Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany) in seven days. Each ship will be 860 feet long, capable of transporting 12,000 short tons (158,000 square feet of cargo), and sustain speeds of up to 40 knots. The hull and propulsion system will enable the ship to maintain its speed even under adverse weather conditions (sea state 7 to 8). Ships will be loaded and unloaded in six hours using a unique, patented, rail-based roll-on/roll-off system without the use of cranes.

Commercial operations were initially scheduled to begin in 2003. In late 2000 Kvaerner Philadelphia Shipyard signed a memorandum of understanding to build four 1,432-TEU ships capable of 40-knot speeds. San Diego-based National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. withdrew from the project to concentrate on a contract to build three oil tankers for BP Amoco during the same time period it would have been working on FastShip's vessels. Financing details for all four ships had yet to be worked out, although FastShip was trying to get Title XI shipbuilding guarantees from the U.S. Maritime Administration, with the project's total price tag projected at $1.7 billion.

The vessel can be modified to transport tanks, trucks, and helicopters, and all military cargo would be carried internally (i.e., no open deck stowage). Because of the configuration of the lower cargo deck, FastShip will accommodate over 300 units of the Elevated Causeway System (Modular) (ELCAS(M)), which can be self-deployed from the cargo deck to a beachhead. For unloading in-stream, the ship's bow and stern thrusters can be linked to a dynamic positioning system and the stern ramp and elevator can be used to unload onto a pontoon or other system. A preliminary assessment of the national defense features (NDF) necessary to convert the ships from commercial to military use has been made by the ship designer. The designer has estimated it will take one to three days to convert each vessel, and one ship can transport one armored brigade.

Permanent National Defense Features Required to be Built Into the Vessel:

  • Stern ramp modifications to accept an extension for military use.
  • Additional sea-fastenings for lashing unit equipment.
  • Additional fuel tanks and water-making capacity.
  • Enlarged capacity air-conditioning and firefighting system.
  • Some re-arrangement of structure and deck pillars to accept military loads.
  • Modifications for increased port maneuverability and/or dynamic positioning for in-stream unloading.
  • Additional mooring equipment.
  • Upgraded gas turbines for operating at very high ambient temperatures.
  • Underway Replenishment capability for refueling, receiving stores.

Bolt-On National Defense Features Required During Contingency Execution:

  • Extension to the stern ramp-elevator for austere port unloading.
  • Underway Replenishment operating equipment.
  • Strengthened lower cargo deck panels for heavy combat vehicles.
  • Possible C4I and self defense systems.

A new platform such as this could significantly increase the projection of combat power and reduce the current reliance on vulnerable PREPO assets. Action could be taken to provide the funds to incorporate the national defense features, or else there is a possibility that foreign governments may provide funding to build the vessels and the ships flagged accordingly, thereby placing them outside the reach of the US Government.

Whereas conventional containerships take 7 to 8 days to cross the North Atlantic, the FastShip will make the same crossing in 3.5 days. Preliminary plans for operations between Philadelphia and Zeebrugge, Belgium, estimate that the vessel will be able to leave Philadelphia fully loaded, cross the ocean, deliver cargo and load new cargo, and return to Philadelphia in just 8 days. One design of the had an average service speed of 37.6 to 42 knots, an overall length of 774 feet, and a draft of 34'3." It will carry 1,400 TEUs and have an annual capacity of 100,000 TEUs per ship deployed. Specialized container-handling systems would allow accelerated container loading and unloading, reducing terminal dwell times. The new vessel technology would be attractive for transatlantic shipments of high value and time-sensitive cargo, which have traditionally used air as the preferred mode. Benefits other than speed include improved air quality, as the ship's gas turbines would produce less noxious fumes than diesel engines.

The FastShip vessels are semi-planing monohulls powered by five marine gas turbines supplied by Rolls-Royce. Each turbine will drive a Rolls-Royce/Kamewa water jet, delivering a total of 250 megawatts or 335,000 horsepower-roughly equivalent to the takeoff power of two Boeing 747s. In comparison, a FastShip vessel will carrying about 60 times the maximum payload of two 747s over the same distance. This propulsion power will enable the 860-foot vessels, carrying a 10,000-ton payload, to make the passage between Philadelphia and Cherbourg in less than four days at speeds of up to 38 knots (44 mph). Another advantage of the hull design is the inherent stability we achieve with our wide beam, which permits stowage optimized for inland logistics requirements rather than to meet vessel stability requirements at sea.

The advanced, patented hull form coupled with the propulsion package will enable our vessels to maintain high speeds even under adverse weather conditions. This is the key to our being able to offer time-definite delivery. Other ships need to reduce speed in rough weather, making them inherently less reliable. FastShip vessels can remain at speed even in 25-foot seas (sea state 7), allowing us to guarantee on-time arrival of the ships in our dedicated terminals. As a result, terminal and inland operations can be synchronized around ship arrivals, enabling a continuous flow end-to-end for our operation and seamless on-time delivery for customers.

With the addition of very simple, low-cost military features that can be installed in 48 hours, the commercial FastShip can quickly be converted to a roll-on roll-off ship that can carry wheeled and tracked vehicles, containers and personnel. The ship can operate in undeveloped ports and even unload directly to a beach. This capability provides unparalleled speed and flexibility in handling strategic deployments of military equipment.

As an example, by using one FastShip vessel, the US military would be able to move two entire armored battalions (including personnel, vehicles and 30 days worth of combat supplies) from North America to an unimproved Persian Gulf port in less than 11 days. That is less than one-half of the time it would take conventional sealift. And, given the nature of the cargo, it would be virtually impossible and extremely expensive to accomplish this same feat with airlift. The FastShip design, which is adaptable and scalable, could have direct application to other defense requirements both combat and logistical, including sea-basing.

In 2001 the Defense Department requested $506,408,000 for the Ready Reserve Force for FY2002. On 19 November 2001 the House Appropriations Committee recommended $412,708,000, a decrease of $93,700,000. A reduction of $98,700,000 was recommended due to the funding of MARAD program management in the Committee's fiscal year 2002 Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary appropriations bill. The Committee also recommended $5,000,000 only for the FASTSHIP initiative.

In June 2002 the House Appropriations Committee recommended an additional $10,000,000 to the $25,000,000 already reserved under the National Defense Sealift Fund appropriation account to accelerate the introduction of next-generation high-speed sealift ships, including ships that are commercially viable and militarily useful, such as FastShip vessels, to support the Navy's global military sealift requirements. This additional amount is to be subject to the same terms and conditions as the initial $25,000,000. The Committee reiterates its expectation that the Navy will work with other federal agencies using interagency agreements, economy act procedures, or other mechanisms to provide loan guarantees to enable United States shipbuilders to construct these ships.

By January 2003 Maritime Administration (MARAD) had not made any decision concerning the FastShip Inc. Title XI loan guarantee application. In a letter dated December 30, 2002 to FastShip President Roland Bullard II, Captain William G. Schubert, the Maritime Administrator, indicated that certain requirements must be met before MARAD will be in a position to render a decision on the FastShip application. Once those requirements are met, MARAD would continue to process the application in keeping with normal procedures.

On February 2, 2004 FastShip, Inc. announced that $40 million in federal funds will be made available to construct the company's state-of-the-art marine cargo terminal at the Port of Philadelphia. The result of an effort championed by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) with the support of Senator Rick Santorum ( R-PA.), the funds will be reprogrammed from the strategic sealift fund. Senator Specter said during a press conference today at the Packer Avenue Marine terminal, near the future FastShip site, "These funds appropriated for FastShip will complement the Delaware River Port Authority's previous commitment of $75 million and the advanced technology features military applications which will be a benefit for U.S. military sealift capabilities."

In April 2005, Republican Senator Arlen Specter inserted a sentence into a 312-page emergency spending bill ordering the Defense Department to disperse $40 million "solely for the purpose of construction" of a new port and of "high-speed, advanced-design vessels," to be built "by a Philadelphia-based company." In other words, FastShip. The $40 million for high-speed cargo ships had been approved in 2004.

As of mid-2006 commercial service was expected to begin in 2008. The Company was in the process of developing the financing to build the first three ships, the terminals in Philadelphia and Cherbourg, and to launch the North Atlantic service. The ships are designed, tested and classified. A major European shipyard will begin detailed design and construction as soon as the financing is in place. The loading system is designed with an operational prototype in Bergen Norway. Terminals have been designed and simulated. Key strategic partnerships are in place with world-class companies committed to making FastShip a success.

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