USNS Yukon, M/T Empire State Conduct Historic UNREP Off the Coast Of San Diego

Off the coast of San Diego, Military Sealift Command’s fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202) made history with Motor Tanker Ship Empire State as they conducted the first underway replenishment between a State Class tanker ship and an MSC oiler.
In the 1980s and 1990’s, MSC chartered Champion Class tankers (T5 tankers) UNREPing Navy oilers was common place, especially in the Navy’s 5th Fleet area of operations.    Civilian tanker ships, such as Empire State, still maintained the ability to fuel at sea; the demand for fuel consolidation (CONSOL) at sea declined…until now.

 

Military Sealift Command's fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon make an approach with M/T Empire State during a practice for an historical refueling at sea off the coast of San Diego.  (Photo by Sarah E. Burford)

Military Sealift Command’s fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon make an approach with M/T Empire State during a practice for an historical refueling at sea off the coast of San Diego. (Photo by Sarah E. Burford)

While commercial tankers have maintained the ability to conduct UNREPs, not performing them for many years meant unseasoned crews.  Unlike MSC ships whose crews conduct refueling at sea operations several times a week, even several times a day in some areas of operations, for the crew of Empire State, an UNREP was more something they’d done in theory than in reality.  For this, the crew went back to basics with a series of training courses at the Underway Replenishment Test Site in Port Hueneme, Calif.

“Only a handful of crewmembers had conducted actual UNREP before and never from a commercial tanker,” explained Capt. Andrew Miller, Empire State’s civilian master.  “Some parts of the mission differed from training such as maneuvering between vessels and the transfer of cargo ship-to-ship which could not be practiced during static exercises and could not be simulated, but all other aspects (connecting phone and distance line, spanwire, and cargo hose, and signaling) were just like we conducted in training.”

A member of USNS Yukon's (T-AO 202) rig team signals to crew members onboard M/T Empire State during UNREP operations. (Photo by Sarah E. Burford)

A member of USNS Yukon’s (T-AO 202) rig team signals to crew members onboard M/T Empire State during UNREP operations. (Photo by Sarah E. Burford)

Before conducting the UNREP with fuel, four training runs were conducted, where cargo hoses were sent across, but no fuel was transferred.  This gave both crews the ability to work together, and for the Empire State crew to get a feel for the real-world environment.  When both masters were confident with the ability to successfully conduct the UNREP, Yukon made its approach alongside Empire State and the rig teams sent the shotlines across the 180 foot span between the two ships and the fuel transfer began. |

“Maneuvering alongside another ship is a unique circumstance,” said Capt. Guy Ziccardi, Yukon’s Civil Service master.  “The main challenge with the Empire State was they had no corporate knowledge of conducting UNREP prior to the events last week.”

Cargo hoses connect USNS Yukon to M/T Empire State 150 feet away during UNREP operations off the coast of San Diego, Calif. (Photo by Sarah E. Burford)

Cargo hoses connect USNS Yukon to M/T Empire State 150 feet away during UNREP operations off the coast of San Diego, Calif. (Photo by Sarah E. Burford)

As both masters acknowledged, communication with each other was key to a successful mission.

“Capt. Miller and I had extensive pre-event communication and coordination to reduce risk and to provide sufficient information on what to expect,” said Ziccardi.  “We also discussed steps that should be taken prior to the event such as briefing his crew on emergency breakaway and conducting loss of steering training. Empire State performed very well during all events including a five degree course correction, while the two ships were still connected, in order to avoid the USNS Guadalupe and a Navy cruiser who were also engaged in UNREP.”

At the end of the day, Empire State successfully transferred ten thousand barrels of diesel ship fuel to Yukon, without incident, setting the stage for future events.  Both masters agree that the ability of an oiler to receive bulk cargo fuel at sea from a tanker ship gives MSC another option to obtain products needed by our Navy customers quickly and efficiently.

“This is a great capability and it’s great to see it coming back,” said Ziccardi.  “Redeveloping the ability to refuel with a tanker ship will add flexibility to our missions by allowing CLF (Combat Logistic Force) ships to receive cargo fuel without needing to return to port.”

USNS Yukon's Yeoman Steward takes a sample of fuel delivered by M/T Empire State for testing prior to full deliver of 10,000 barrels to Yukon.  (Photo by Sarah E. Burford)

USNS Yukon’s Yeoman Steward takes a sample of fuel delivered by M/T Empire State for testing prior to full deliver of 10,000 barrels to Yukon. (Photo by Sarah E. Burford)

 

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