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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 $1,242,027 over 3.25 years for Banner and Courier.

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of contracts to manage RRF ships in 1998, MARAD independently discovered an error in the award process, and rescinded the contracts.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 these 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.

These former commercial cargo ships have six cargo holds served by a 60-ton-capacity boom, 18 smaller booms, and two cranes. All three ships can carry 12,000 barrels of liquid. Banner and Buyer cargo capacity is 663,069 cu ft (18,776 cu m) dry cargo and 25,002 cu ft (708 cu m) refrigerated cargo. Courier carries 716,076 cu ft (20,277 cu m) of dry cargo, and unlike the other two units Courier is also capable of carrying containers.

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