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T-ATF 166 Powhatan
Fleet Ocean Tugs

Fleet Ocean Tugs are operated by Military Sealift Command and provide the US Navy with towing service, and when augmented by Navy divers, assist in the recovery of downed aircraft and ships. Fleet tugs are used to tow ships, barges and targets for gunnery exercises. They are also used as platforms for salvage and diving work, as participants in naval exercises, to conduct search and rescue missions, to aid in the clean up of oil spills and ocean accidents, and to provide fire fighting assistance.

Each vessel is equipped with 10 ton capacity crane and a bollard pull of at least 54 tons. A deck grid is fitted aft which contains 1 inch bolt receptacles spaced 24 inches apart. This allows for the bolting down of a wide variety of portable equipment. There are two GPH fire pumps supplying three fire monitors with up to 2,200 gallons of foam per minute. A deep module can be embarked to support naval salvage teams.

The T-ATF is a 225-foot steel hulled, self-propelled vessel; constructed to meet ridged Military standards. Although primarily designed for open ocean rowing, the vessels are also well equipped to conduct diving, salvage, and fire fighting operations. The large open cargo deck is fitted with a deck grid, to allow the vessel to deploy with a variety of mission specific equipment.

A permanently installed quick reaction capability (QRC) allows the ship to perform rescue missions. These include preventing distressed vessels from broaching or beaching in addition to performing debeaching operations. Space and weight reservations and support capabilities for deploying with a full compliment of Navy salvage gear, including hydraulic puller beach gear, have also been provided.

The basic design of this tug is an adaptation of the commercial offshore supply vessel used in the petroleum industry. In contrast to its World War II predecessor, this tug has a larger main deck aft, twin screw controllable-reversible pitch propellers, 50-percent greater horsepower, and a towing system capable of handling both wire rope and synthetic lines.

A unique feature of the tug is the portable salvage and diving system, which will require the ship have space and weight reservations and support capabilities for the equipment. The equipment will be located at various Emergency Ship Salvage Material System pools until needed, at which time equipment and Navy personnel will be placed on the first available tug. The primary reason for the omission of salvage and diving equipment and personnel as a permanent feature on the tug is the relatively small amount of salvage operations made annually by fleet ocean tugs. Additionally, it provided a cost savings to the Navy. It was also determined that only one complete set of salvage and diving equipment for every two tugs would be required, which also reflects the small amount of salvage operations done by this ship type.

As part of the Support Force, the Navy's fleet ocean tugs provide a wide range of wartime and peacetime fleet support services. However, like many of the Navy's fleet support ships, by the mid-1970s the tugs operating were built for World War II service and are scheduled to soon be retired or transferred to the Naval Reserve Force.

The Navy determined that it needed 10 new ocean tugs as replacements. By 1977 seven were either under construction or were programed for corstruction. The seven authorized replacement tugs cost an estimated $108 million. The decision not to procure the three tugs approved in fiscal year 1978 would resuit in savings of $51 million for the initial procurement ($17 million a tug), $2 million in one-time phase-up costs ($665,000 a tug), and about $3 million annually in operating costs.

The Navy's desire to obtain additional fleet ocean tugs was based in part on a Navy "Towing Requirements and Ports Levels Study" done by the Center for Naval Analyses in July 1974. The study concluded that due to technical limitations, the use of commercial ocean tugs to meet the Navy's peacetime requirements was not feasible, although the least costly. An estimated $2PO million could be saved over a 10-year period if 10 new fleet ocean tugs, constructed to the basic design of the commercial offshore supply tug, were operated by Military Sealift Command rather than by the Navy fleets. Under this plan, all old tugs would be retired as soon as possible, additional capability needed for peacetime be obtained by commercial spot charter, and a greater wartime reliance on ocean tug resources from private industry would result.

The CNA study said in part: "All that we're proposing is that the Navy consider, on a trial basis, a limited shift toward more commercial use. If the commercial market proves responsive, the Navy would have more confidence in trying further commercial use. A gradual approach would allow time to iron out procedural problems and allow the Navy to see whether commercial tug operators were inclined to expand their fleets to handle the growing Navy business... " The Navy has not done tbis.

Athough by 1978 GAO agreed with some findings of the study, there were several areas of the evaluation which need further analysis. For example, the analysis of commercial tug availability neglected to consider oil sxploitation vessels, which includes the offshore supply tug. The study reported 473 commercial tugs, witn 2,000 horsepower or larger and built since 1955, available for some Navy tasks. GAO found about 1,000 commercial vessels, using the same horsepower and age criteria, available when oil exploitation vessels were included. By removing this criteria, the universe of commercial vessels increased to over 3,000. Although it was doubtful that all 3,000 vessels would be suitable for Navy work, it is probable that enough can qualify to satisfy more of the Navy's ocean towing requirement than was planned.

If acquired, all 10 tugs would have cost about $160 million. Assigned to the Military Sealift Command, as fleet support vessels, the tugs were crewed and operated by civil service personnel, with the exception of a four-man Navy communication. detachment. The three tugs approved in fiscal year 1978 cost about $17 million each. The first tug was scheduled for delivery in July 1978, with follow-on deliveries through fiscal year 1981.

Built at Marinette Marine Corp, Wisconsin patterned after commercial offshore supply ship design. MMC constructed (7) of the vessel for the US Navy. They are operated by the Military Sea Lift Command. Originally intended as successors to the "Cherokee" and "Abnaki" class ATFs. All transferred to MSC upon completion. USNS Apache (T-ATF 172) was the last of the Powhatan class of ocean tugs delivered to the Navy in 1981. Two units (ATF 166, 167) have been deactivated and placed on commercial lease, subject to recall for USN salvage use.

Ex-USS Saratoga (AVT-60), one of the inactive aircraft carriers mothballed at the old Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, was towed out of Philadelphia for the last time 03 August 1998 by the Fleet-tug USNS Powhatan (T-ATF-166). Saratoga is the first of three deep-draft vessels to be relocated to Newport, RI, for storage. The relocation is done as part of the lease arrangement between the Navy, the City of Philadelphia and Kvaerner Philadelphia Shipyard and as a result of BRAC-91.

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Page last modified: 18-04-2019 14:31:35 ZULU