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T-AKR 287 Algol
SL-7 Type Fast Sealift Ships

The Fast Sealift Ships, vehicle cargo ships that are nearly the length of an aircraft carrier, are the fastest cargo ships in the world. Combined, all eight Fast Sealift Ships can carry nearly all the equipment needed to outfit a full Army mechanized division. The Navy maintains these ships in an inactive status pierside at an average cost of $4 million dollars per vessel per year. The ships can travel at speed of up to 33 knots and are capable of sailing from the US East Coast to Europe in just six days, and to the Persian Gulf via the Suez Canal in 18 days, thus ensuring rapid delivery of military equipment in a crisis. Along with her sister ships, Algol was extensively employed carrying combat vehicles and other cargo to the Persian Gulf area during the 1990-91 Desert Shield/Desert Storm operations. Fast Sealift Ships are named after supergiant stars.

Fast Sealift Ships are roll-on/roll-off and lift-on/lift-off ships equipped with on-board cranes and self-contained ramps which enable the ships to off-load onto lighterage which anchored at sea or in ports where shore facilities for unloading equipment are unavailable. The vessels are specially suited to transport heavy or bulky unit equipment such as tanks, large wheeled vehicles and helicopters.

All were originally built as container ships for Sea-Land Services, Inc., Port Elizabeth, NJ, but because of high fuel consuption were not cost-effective as merchant ships. Launched in 1972, the first SL-7 was the largest and fastest container ship of it's time. This class advanced the state of fast commercial ship design through its use of finer hull lines. Its 120,000 SHP power plant allowed SL-7 to reach a trial speed of 33 knots. Despite this high speed, the ship never reached its economic potential. High fuel costs, a result of the 1973 oil embargo, could not be absorbed by increased freight rates. Using steam for propulsion was maintenance intensive. Increased maintenance costs, coupled with high fuel costs, result in high Life Cycle Costs (LCC) and Required Freight Rates (RFR). Seakeeping also impacted its commercial viability. Although designed to withstand Beaufort 8 operating conditions, the SL-7 frequently could not meet service speed without excessive ship motions in Beaufort 6. A six meter Atlantic sea can slow a normal container ship down from 22 to 16 or 17 knots, or the SL-7 from 30 to 22 knots. A large storm system can add the better part of a day to a transatlantic passage, and advertised transit speeds were not always attainable on the predetermined North Atlantic routing. Meeting delivery time commitments, despite the weather, was a critical factor in capturing and maintaining new markets. These problems, taken in total, resulted in a ship incapable of sustained commercial viability and led to the subsequent sale of the entire class to the government.

Six ships of this class were approved for acquisition in FY81 and the remaining two in FY82. The purchase price included 4,000 containers and 800 container chassis for use in container ship configuration. All eight were converted to Fast Sealift Ships in 1984-1985, with the last of the eight Fast Deployment Logistics Ships (TAK-R) conversions completed in 1986.

USNS Algol, a 43,000-ton vehicle cargo ship, was built at Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in 1973 as the merchant vessel Sea-Land Exchange. One of a group of eight very fast container ships with significant defense logistics potential, she was acquired by the Navy in October 1981 and named Algol. Originally designated as T-AK-287, she was redesignated T-AKR-287 in September 1982. In June 1984, Algol completed extensive conversion work to fit her as a "roll-on/roll-off" vehicle transport. Since then, she has supported U.S. logistics needs on an "on-call" basis.

With speeds up to 33 knots, they are the fastest cargo ships ever built. Conversion included the addition of roll-on/roll-off features. The cargo hold was redesigned into a series of decks connected by ramps so that vehicles can be driven in and out of storage areas for rapid loading and unloading. Four cranes were installed, giving the ships the ability to discharge in stream or in ports where shore based cranes have been damaged. When paired, the aft cranes can lift 100 tons while the cranes midships can lift 70 tons. The area between the forward and after superstructures allows for emergency high hover helicopter lifts. Ninety-three percent of a US Army mechanized division can be lifted using all eight ships. Seven of the class moved thirteen percent of all the cargo transported between the US and Saudi Arabia during and after the Persian Gulf War. Six were activated for the Somalian operation in December 1992 and all have been used in various operations and exercises since then.

The FSS are all based in Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports. All the FSSs are kept in Reduced Operating Status (ROS) and can be activated and ready to sail in 96 hours. The eight FSS are maintained in a 4-day Reduced Operating Status (ROS-4) as recommended by the OSD published Mobility Requirements Study (MRS) and the MRS Bottom-Up Review Update (MRS BURU). These ships provide the initial surge sealift capacity required transport the lead combat forces from CONUS to a given area of operations and satisfy time critical warfighting requirements. The criteria for each readiness status was also specified in the MRS (i.e. Outporting, Sea/Dock Trials, Maintenance). ROS-4 ships have a cadre crew assigned, outported at a layberth, and undergo annual sea trials, periodic dock trials, and required periodic regulatory drydockings/inspections. A nucleus crew of eighteen maintains each ship, with twenty five additional crew members coming aboard for activation. The ships are activated periodically to participate in exercises and operations. The Fast Sealift Ships are operated by Bay Ship Management, Inc. under contract with the Military Sealift Command and crewed by US Merchant Marine personnel.

The Fast Sealift Ships performed particularly well [during DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM] in their part of the overall logistics effort, doing more relative to their numbers than any other type of sealift asset. FSSs have both RO/RO and limited container capabilities and are a rapid and versatile transportation means for unit equipment. They have a larger capacity than breakbulk ships and require less time to load and unload. However, there are only eight FSS ships, thus availability was limited. Unfortunately, one FSS, the Antares, failed off the East coast of the United States with a considerable amount of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) equipment aboard. The ship was towed to Spain. Some of the cargo was airlifted to Saudi Arabia but most had to be unloaded and reloaded aboard another FSS returning from her initial voyage. This cargo arrived about three weeks later than planned. (Before the war, the Antares had been scheduled for major overhaul, but this was delayed. Thus a degree of risk was accepted in the decision to use Antares to speed the deployment.)

The FSS size and speed allowed the remaining seven ships to deliver more than 13 percent of the total cargo of the unit equipment. FSS carried the 90,000 short tons of equipment for the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at average speeds of 27 knots. Although normally on 96-hour standby, the first FSS was ready to deploy in 48 hours. The typical FSS load included more than 700 Army vehicles such as M-1 tanks, M-2 fighting vehicles, and fuel trucks. By comparison, 116 World War II Liberty Ships would have been required to move the same tonnage in the same period.

A five-year operating charter award was announced 02 May 2000 by the Navy's Military Sealift Command. The charter went to American Overseas Marine Corp., or AMSEA, of Quincy, Mass. AMSEA was selected after a difficult round of competitive bidding among U.S.-flag companies in response to an MSC bid request. The fast sealift ships had been operated under AMO contract by Bay Ship Mgmt Inc., of Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:59:27 ZULU