US starts massive sealift as it gears up for possible war

US starts massive sealift as it gears up for possible war

THE US government has started activating commercially owned container and break bulk cargo ships under its Ready Reserve Force programme, as it steps up preparations for a possible war with Iraq.

Published January 24, 2003 Shipping News
By GEORGE JOSEPH

(SINGAPORE) The US government has started activating commercially owned container and break bulk cargo ships under its Ready Reserve Force programme (RRF), as it steps up preparations for a possible war with Iraq.

Keeping a watchful eye: An armed US Navy sailor from the USS Milius patrolling international waters in the northern Gulf, some 20km off the Iraqi coastline.

The United States Maritime Administration (Marad) initially ordered eight vessels and a further nine into full operating status last Friday. Marad is believed to manage an RRF fleet of some 100 ships.

However, US operations have not yet reached a stage where US-flagged ships under the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (Visa) are called up.

Singapore's NOL Group, following its acquisition of APL, has nine ships in this scheme, under which capacity can be made available to the US government.

APL's acting chief executive Ron Widdows told Shipping Times that it is very unlikely that any of the APL container ships under the Visa scheme will be requisitioned by the US government for its cause.

'We don't anticipate an outright requisition. There is a notice period to keep you aware of the cargo volumes involved and to make sure you have the capability and capacity to meet those requirements,' he said.

'In the event that the US government has any requirement, we have the ability to very easily move our ships around. It is relatively a minor event in terms of how we run our network and will not have any unfavourable impact on our operations,' said Mr Widdows.

The requisitioning of US-flagged vessels takes place only after the US has exhausted all other avenues for using commercially-owned ships, including those under the Military Service Programme (MSP).

The MSP was designed to assure the viability of a US-flagged merchant marine fleet capable of maintaining a role in international commercial shipping and meeting the sealift needs of the US during national emergencies.

Such ships have to be able to serve as a naval and military auxiliary in times of war or national emergency.

The 'Desert Storm' operations during the entire Iraq war, which involved the most concentrated movement of war material that has ever taken place, were conducted without the need for any voluntary call-up of shipping capacity, a US shipping official told Shipping Times.

Meanwhile, the US Military Traffic Management Command has extended a service contract with several carriers for transporting defence department cargo into the Middle East theatre of operations till end of next month.

The US$317-million contract involves the movement of more than 100,000 containers and about 300,000 tons of break bulk. US-flagged carriers to receive guaranteed minimum cargo volumes under this contract include Maersk, APL (American Predient Lines), Lykes Lines, P&O Nedlloyd, Central Gulf Lines.

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