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T-AKR 9205 Strong Virginian

The MV Strong Virginian is a heavy lift multipurpose vessel that is used in the prepositioning of Army cargo in the Indian Ocean at the island of Diego Garcia. Strong Virginian is a lift-on/lift-off, multipurpose vessel that requires no shore-side assistance for cargo operations because of its 600-ton capacity cargo boom that allows it to lift extraordinarily heavy cargos. The ship will carry small vessels such as utility landing craft and mechanized landing craft to be used at ports during contingencies.

Strong Virginian is a multipurpose vessel that is providing the Army ready duty afloat prepositioned LCU 2000 watercraft capable of intra-theatre lift to remote or underdeveloped coastlines and inland waterways. Strong Virginian is designed to carry a wide diversity of cargo: heavy lift, containers, rolling stock, general breakbulk cargo and bulk fuel. The ship's optimum size, maneuverability and self-sufficiency increase the number of ports and coastal locations that the ship can enter and operate in. Strong Virginian has large below-deck storage areas and is able to load 168 vehicles -- primarily Humvees and trucks -- via a retractable, drive-on ramp. It is on this basis that the ship is classified as a AKR Vehicle Cargo Ship.

In March 1997 Van Ommeren Shipping (USA), Inc. of Stamford, Conn., received a contract with an estimated value of $23.6 million for the charter of the MV Strong Virginian. The 24-month contract had two options--one for 24 months and a second option for 11 months. The options, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of the entire contract to $47,992,099. This contract was competitively procured with 250 proposals solicited and four offers received.

Military Sealift Command officials fit four U.S. Army watercrafts -- LCU 2000s -- onto the deck of MV Strong Virginian. The load-out of the Army equipment took place at the British Marchwood Military Base in Hythe near South Hampton, United Kingdom, in early September 1998. LCU 2000s are 174-feet in length, with a beam of 42 feet and a displacement of 9 feet when fully loaded. They can carry five M1A1 Army tanks or 24 20-foot shipping containers and have a range of 10,000 miles. The LCU 2000s have a crew of 13. In addition, LCU watercraft are key Logistic-Over-the-Shore players and are used to off-load prepositioned cargo from ships at anchor.

The LCU 2000s were originally from Fort Eustis, Va., and were undergoing maintenance at the U.S. Army's Hythe Maintenance Depot Activity where they had been stationed for several months. The watercraft will now be used as part of the Army's prepositioning equipment aboard Strong Virginian. The ship is a chartered heavy-lift, roll-on/roll-off prepositioning vessel, operating out of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. In addition to the four LCU 2000s, nearly 150 vehicles and 420,000 gallons of marine diesel fuel for the Army watercraft, were also loaded.

Months before the actual load-out operations began, preparations were made to ready both the Army watercraft and Strong Virginian. Each Army LCU 2000 was fitted with eight special padeyes or attaching points-four welded on each side of the ship's gunnel-to allow cranes to lift them onto Strong Virginian. Lifting the LCU 2000 by the newly welded padeyes versus a belly sling offered a safer lift for the watercraft, whereas using a belly sling could place structural pressure on the watercraft's hull, possibly damaging the steel plates.

Meanwhile, Strong Virginian was modified in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Modifications included the installation of a fleeting system, or rail-type skids, that would allow the Army watercraft once on board, to be slid into the proper stowed position. Each LCU 2000 would be set down on the deck at the same location and then slid into its respective position.

Actual loading operations began 05 September 1998 in Hythe. Strong Virginian's 800-ton fixed boom and 75-ton gantry cranes were used in tandem to lift each LCU 2000 out of the water and onto the deck. The bow of the Army watercraft came over the forward port side of Strong Virginian first. Before placing the watercraft on the fleeting system, the stern of the watercraft was swung into position, allowing the watercraft to be aligned properly on the rails. Once the watercraft were placed onto the skids and rail system, ship deck mounted winches fleeted them from one side of the ship to the other side and aft into their stowage position.

After more than a year of planning by U.S. Navy and Army officials, all four LCU 2000s were stowed safely aboard Strong Virginian, ready for the voyage to Diego Garcia. "The entire loading evolution was unique," said Keith Bauer of MSC's Prepositioning Program who oversaw the loading operation. "This is the first time we've loaded watercraft in this manner."

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