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T-AK 4729 American Tern

In September 2002 Military Sealift Command awarded a $12,339,300, 17-month, firm-fixed-price contract to American Automar, Inc. of Bethesda, Md., for the time charter of MV Kariba, a 521 foot-long ice-classed cargo ship. The contract would total $36 million should the two additional 17-month options be exercised. The ship will be used primarily to support Operation Deep Freeze, the annual resupply of McMurdo Base in Antarctica, and Operation Pacer Goose, the annual resupply of Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. In the interim between missions, the ship will also move ammunition, general cargo and fleet hospitals. MSC-chartered operations are scheduled to begin in December 2002, when the ship reports to Port Hueneme, Calif. MV Kariba, formerly under a Liberian flag, will be renamed and reflagged as a U.S. ship before reporting to MSC. The ship will replace MV Green Wave, which has been under charter by MSC since 1984.

On May 22, 2001 APL, the container transportation and logistics provider, and American Automar, a ship-owning company providing U.S.-flag sealift services to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and other government agencies, had jointly announced a definitive agreement for the acquisition of American Automar by APL. Under the agreement, APL will acquire privately held Automar in an all-cash transaction valued at about US$50 million, of which about US$15 million is debt. American Automar continued to operate as a separate company under its current name, management, and organizational structure.

MV Kariba is a 1982-built Bahamian flagged 20,829 gt container ship. Three vessels, the M/V Kariba, the M/V Tricolor and the M/V Clary, sailed through dense fog in the English Channel in the French Exclusive Economic Zone, some 20 miles north of the French coast in the early hours of 14 December 2002. The M/V Kariba and the M/V Tricolor collided, resulting in significant damage to the M/V Kariba and the total loss of the M/V Tricolor. Kariba, was seriously damaged but made its own way to the Belgian port of Antwerp. MV Tricolor is a 1987-built Norwegian flagged 55,000-ton vehicle carrier. MV Tricolor, carrying 2,862 expensive automobiles, sank as a result of the impact of the striking and was eventually declared a total loss. In December 2002, the French authorities ordered the MV Tricolor to be removed, as it was perceived to represent a danger to shipping and the environment.

The owner of the M/V Kariba, Otal Investments Ltd. ("Otal"), filed suit against the M/V Clary in the Netherlands alleging embarrassment of navigation and attached the vessel. Upon the establishment of a limitation fund under the Convention, the Dutch Court released M/V Clary from attachment. However, the limitation fund established by the Convention did not provide direct security to Otal, but rather served to secure all claims filed in the Dutch limitation action, which ultimately exceeded the total limitation fund.

For the 2002-2003 season the "American Tern" took on the role of the main American Antarctic supply vessel, replacing the long serving "Green Wave" which was proving both unreliable and too small. The "American Tern" was built in Germany 1990 to Finnish Ice class 1A specifications and has a 50% greater carrying capacity than "Green Wave". The vessel is operated by American Automar which has a contract with the American Military Sealife Command which provides the cargo capacity for the US Antarctic Program. This contract which extends until 2010 also employs the vessel on a supply route to Thule in Greenland.

A newer and bigger ship brings most of the supplies to the Ice for the coming year, replacing the Green Wave vessel that has been an end-of-summer landmark for the past 18 years. A 12-year-old German ship, renamed the American Tern, has about one-third more cargo space, a higher ice rating and was 10 years newer than the Green Wave, officials said. Everything from curly fries to heavy construction machinery was loaded into the American Tern at the end of December in Port Hueneme, Calif., for its anticipated inaugural arrival at McMurdo Station in mid-February.

The Green Wave's contract with the U.S. Antarctic Program expired in 2002. Program officials asked for a larger ship when they submitted their technical requirements to the U.S. Military Sealift Command, which selected a vessel from bidders. Two years in a row there was too much cargo to put on the Green Wave, so obviously the program is growing to the tune that the Green Wave is no longer adequate for Raytheon Polar Services Co., which provides support services to the Antarctic program.

The excess cargo had to be flown to McMurdo, which is considerably more expensive, he said. Raytheon officials estimate it costs 11 cents per pound to transport items from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo on a resupply ship, compared to $2.50 a pound by air.

The 521-foot-long American Tern does't look much bigger, being only 14 feet longer and seven feet wider than the Green Wave. But the German ship can carry 977 8-by-8-by-20-foot shipping containers, called milvans, compared to 594 on the Green Wave. The most noticeable difference may be on the ship's deck, where 655 milvans can be stacked compared to 362 on the Green Wave. Each milvan weighs 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) empty, up to 40,000 pounds (18,100 kg) full, and holds the equivalent of an airplane load.

The American Tern's capacity is more than the Antarctic program will need for the first year. This is probably going to be a lesser year for the ship, but it does give the National Science Foundation the ability to program construction and other projects in a much tighter time frame. The cargo capacity will be vital for large-scale projects such as the construction of the new South Pole station, scheduled for completion in 2007. About half of the 12 million pounds of cargo on the Green Wave this year was for the South Pole, whose population is about one-fourth the size of McMurdo's.

This ship should be enough to satisfy the requirements of the Raytheon contract, which could last until 2010. Military Sealife Command officials select the vessel from bidders because the ship is also used outside of the Antarctic program. The winning bid came from American Automar, a Maryland-based subsidiary of the international NOL Group that provides sea-based support for the U.S. military. The ship was in drydock in Jacksonville, Fla., being re-flagged as a U.S. ship and being fitted with features required by her charter to the U.S. government.

The ship was also given a new name for its new mission. American Automar has traditionally named its vessels after birds, in many cases a bird appropriate to the ship's mission. A good example is the American Cormorant, one of the few very large semi-submersible heavy-lift ships in the world (it dives to pick up its cargo). The Arctic tern migrates 22,000 miles or more per year between the Arctic and Antarctic regions. So will the American Tern, since two of its missions are to resupply McMurdo Station and the Air Force base at Thule, Greenland.

The American Tern has three on-board cranes, compared to four on the Green Wave, but those on the newer ship are larger and can lift more. Also, the American Tern cranes can lift cargo of up to 90 tons, compared to 75 on the Green Wave. The newer ship also is more suited for icy conditions. She is equivalent to Finnish ice class 1A, the highest ice rating for cargo vessels that are not actually icebreakers. The Green Wave is equivalent to ice class 1B, a lower ice rating. A number of features of the Tern are specially designed for service in the ice, including strengthening of the hull, protection of the propeller and heating coils in the ballast tanks to prevent ice formation in extremely cold temperatures.

There are some differences between the American Tern and Green Wave when it comes to their ability to load and unload cargo, but the anticipation was it will take the same amount of time. Much of the cargo arrives at Port Hueneme in September - more than a year before the incoming summer crowd will use it. The shopping list for the ship's cargo is massive, since it represents about 85 percent of the total supplies brought to McMurdo. Food, concrete, napkins, fitness equipment, file cabinets, beer, t-shirts for the gift shop, tires and everything else a small town needs for a year are brought to Port Hueneme for loading.

Loading began 27 December 2002 and departure for McMurdo on 06 January 2003. Traveling at a maximum speed of 16 knots - the same as the Green Wave - the American Tern arrived at McMurdo for offload 02 February 2003 and departed 10 February 2003. Offloading will go on 24 hours a day during its stay at McMurdo and involve nearly all station employees, as cargo is first hauled off and then items for return to the U.S. - such as science samples, garbage and old equipment - are loaded.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:59:06 ZULU