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T-AK 284 Northern Light

The T-AK 284 Northern Light class are general cargo ships with steam propulsion. These commercial cargo ships were initially built for the Moore-McCormack Lines in 1960-1962, and subsequently laid up in the National Defense Reserve 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.

Two units were acquired by the Navy in 1980 for prepositioning Rapid Deployment Force assets at Diego Garcia -- the former SS Mormaccove [ex-Cove] was redesignated T-AK 284 Northern Light and the former SS Mormactrade [ex-Trade] was redesignated T-AK 285 Southern Cross. The Both units are ice strengthened for Arctic operations, and the Northern Light features a modified bow that makes her slightly longer than the other units of the class. The Northern Light was laid up in the Military Sealift Command's Ready Reserve Force in 1984 and the Southern Cross in 1985. In 1994, the Southern Cross was moved to the NRDF anchorage, and subsequently sent to the Massachussets Maritime UNREP CONSOL sealift training program in Quicy, MA.

The former SS Mormacbay [ex-Bay], redesignated T-AK 285 Vega, was acquired by the Navy in 1981 for conversion to a Fleet Ballistic Missile supply ship to replace T-AK 281 Victoria. In this role Vega transported 16 Trident SLBMs, submarine stores and supplies from US ports to forward deployed submarine tenders. The ship was converted at Boland Marine and Manufacturing, New Orleans, La, from May 1982 to March 1983 and fitted with 8 10-ton capacity booms, 4 5-ton capacity booms, and 175-ton capacity boom. The Vega was to have been named King's Bay in naval service.

The Lake [ex-Mormaclake], Pride [ex-Mormacpride], and Scan [ex-Mormacscan] were transferred from the National Defense Reserve Fleet to the Ready Reserve Force in 1985, as was the Cape Catawba [ex-Cape, ex-Mormaccape]in 1987.The Lake and Scan were to have been converted into survey ships (T-AGS 39 and 40), but were transferred to the RRF instead. In 1994, the Pride was moved to the NRDF anchorage.

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. Mormac Marine Enterprises, Inc. of Stamford, CT was awarded $2,028,988 over 5 years for Lake, Scan and Cape Catawba. Marine Transport Lines, Inc. of Weehawken, NJ was awarded $1,821,710 over 3.25 years for Cape Bon and Northern Light.

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 T-AK 284 Northern Light 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.

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