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T-AKR 7 Comet

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. Interocean Ugland Management Corp. of Voorhees, NJ was awarded $4,620,530 over 5 years for Comet and Meteor.

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of contracts to manage RRF ships in 1998, MARAD independently discovered an error in the award process, and rescinded the contracts.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. Mormac Marine Enterprises, Inc. of Stamford, CT was awarded $2,768,190 for Comet and Meteor.

A Roll-On/Roll-Off [RO/RO] ship is specifically designed to carry wheeled and tracked vehicles as all or most of its cargo. Vehicles are driven or towed on and off the ship by means of either the ship's own ramps or shore-based ramps. Because it is designed to accommodate cargoes which cannot be stacked but which vary in height, below-deck space and volume utilization is generally less efficient than on a containership. RO/RO ships are thus commercially viable only in certain specialized trades. However, the RO/RO is the preferred ship type for deployment of military unit equipment. The military advantages of RO/RO ships include the capability for rapid loading and discharge of military vehicles and non-self-deployable aircraft, and open deck areas well suited to the carriage of outsized military cargo. Their military disadvantages include their relative unsuitability for carriage of sustaining supplies and ammunition (in comparison with general cargo and containerships) and their limited availability, because their market sector is much reduced compared with containerships.

The RO/RO ship is primarily a vehicle transporter that allows vehicles to drive on or off the ship via ramps. RO/RO cargo includes wheeled, tracked, self-propelled, and towed vehicles and equipment. A series of external and internal ramps facilitate the loading and discharge of RO/RO cargo. To maintain safe operations, the ramp angle for loading/unloading procedures is no greater than 15 degrees. When designing wheeled or tracked equipment, the materiel developer/contractor must allow for adequate clearance underneath the vehicle to prevent contact at the ramp crest/toe for a 15 degree ramp and enough clearance above the vehicle to prevent projection interference problems.

On 03 August 2005 Matson Navigation Company was awarded ship management contracts by the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) for three ships in its Ready Reserve Fleet. Two of the vessels, SSs Comet and Meteor, are ro-ro ships that were currently in reduced operating status (ROS) in Alameda, California and the third, SS Cape Jacob, a break bulk vessel in full operating status (FOS) on duty with the US Navy Military Sealift Command's Pre-Position Program. The contract for the ROS vessels was for four years, with two three-year extensions possible, and the FOS vessel contract is for one year, with potential for two one-year extensions. MARAD estimated the total contract award is valued at $22.3 million; the award amount covered crew, maintenance and other management expenses related to the operation of the ships. Matson was responsible for keeping the ships in a constant state of readiness and getting the ships fully crewed with US-citizen merchant mariners when an activation call goes out.

In October 1961 Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara projected that construction of five Comet roll-on/roll-off ships at the rate of one a year would begin in FY63. When deliveries began in FY65, each was to replace one general purpose cargo ship then in the active fleet. This was intended to give the US a new and valuable capability for rapid loading and unloading of vehicles, particularly where port facilities are limited.

From this distance, it is difficult to understand these projections, since no such ships were built. The Near Term Prepositioning Force (NTPF) was established in April 1980 as an interim means of providing strategic sealift access in the Indian Ocean for the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (now USCINCCENT). Military Sealift Command formed the NTPF with seven ships. MSC chartered the SS Illinois and SS Lipscomb Lykes and renamed these State-class Roll-on/Roll-off ships USNS Mercury [T-AKR 10] and Jupiter [T-AKR 11]. Along with USNS Meteor [T-AKR 9], they supported the equipment of the 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade. Mercury was disposed of by return to owner on 01 April 1993, and Jupiter was disposed of by return to owner on 01 April 1986. Confusingly, the T-AKR 10 and T-AKR 11 designations were subsequently applied to the Cape Island and the Cape Intrepid, which are entirely unrelated ships.

The first Landing Ship Vehicle was the USS Catskill (LSV-1), reclassified as such on 21 April 1944 and commissioned 30 June 1944. Four subsequent units of a different design were reclassified as LSV-3 Osage Class Landing Ship Vehicle in 1944. They were reclassified as Osage Class Mine Countermeasures Support Ship, redesignated MCS-4 in 1956. Two further units - T-LSV-2 Ozark [ex AP-107] and T-LSV-8 Taurus [ex T-AK-273] - were one-off classes.

The 467 foot 8,175 ton USS Comet was laid down 31 July 1957 under Maritime Administration contract (MA hull 42) at Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Chester, PA. She was launched 31 July 1957 and delivered to the Navy on 27 January 1958, where she was placed in service under control of the Military Sealift Command (MSC) as Cargo Ship USNS Comet (T-AK-269). The vessel was redesignated Vehicle Landing Ship, (T-LSV-7) on 01 January 1963, and subsequently redesignated Vehicle Cargo Ship/ Roll-on/Roll-off Ship, (AKR-7).

The 540 foot 9,154 ton Meteor was laid down 18 May 1964, as Sea Lift a Maritime Administration type (C4-ST-67a) hull under Maritime Administration contract (MA hull 124) at Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction, Seattle WA. Launched on 17 April 1965, she was completed 25 April 1967 and placed in service by the Military Sealift Command (MSC) as USNS Sea Lift (T-LSV-9) om 19 May 1967. She was reclassified Vehicle Cargo Ship (AKR) on 14 August 1969 and renamed USNS Meteor (T-AKR-9) 12 September 1975 to bring her nomenclature into alignment with that of the Comet.

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