MSC port engineers complete overhaul of USNS Wheeler and Fast Tempo

The following blog post was written by Ed Baxter, MSCFE Public Affairs.

Military Sealift Command offshore petroleum distribution system ship USNS Vice Adm.  K.R. Wheeler (T-AG 5001), and its support vessel USNS Fast Tempo, pulled away from Singapore’s Sembawang Wharves this week after completing six weeks of repairs and upgrades.

Wheeler returned to prepositioning duties as the U.S. Navy’s only vessel capable of   pumping diesel or aviation fuel to shore from up to eight miles off the coast.  With flexible pipe stored on 35-foot-tall spools on its weather deck, Wheeler delivers vital fuel to U.S. forces ashore during contingency operations where port facilities may be either damaged, destroyed or non-existent.  The 145 foot Fast Tempo sails with Wheeler and its primary support vessel.

The repairs and upgrades were the first to be conducted by MSC port engineers.  Wheeler and Fast Tempo were both purchased by MSC in August. Port engineers from Ship Support Unit Singapore, MSC headquarters’ Prepositioning Program, and MSC Norfolk, Va.-based Ship Inspection, N752, division were part of the engineering team overseeing repairs.

“This overhaul has been one of the most interesting I have worked on,” said MSC Ship Support Unit Singapore port engineer Berle Goins who has been overseeing repairs of MSC ships for 27 years.  “You don’t see a lot of ships like this and with this unique capability.”

The only ship of its kind in the U.S. military or commercial industry, Wheeler has both tunnel and down-swing azimuth thrusters, part of a sophisticated dynamic positioning system designed to keep the ship in place during pumping missions.

The ship is crewed by 23 merchant mariners working for a private company under contract to MSC. 

“The best way to learn about the intricacies of a new ship is to jump in with both feet, said Wheeler Chief Mate Glenn Macario, whose operating company reported on board the ship just two months ago. 

The overhaul was conducted at Singapore’s Sembawang commercial shipyard, part of a scheduled five-year maintenance cycle required by the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).  ABS is the world’s largest classification society ensuring U.S. maritime vessels meet the high standards of safety.

Repairs and upgrades began Sept. 19 when Wheeler arrived at Singapore’s Sembawang Wharves, home of MSC Far East headquarters.  The ship then shifted about a mile towards Sembawang’s commercial shipyard facility where it entered a dry dock facility Sept. 21.

“I cannot emphasize enough just how superb the cooperation has been between all players—the embarked merchant mariners, MSC, and the shipyard— it’s truly been a team effort,” said Tim Tralango, a port engineer assigned to MSC’s Prepositioining program office at its Washington, D.C. headquarters. 

The dry dock used a ballast system, much like a submarine, to submerge the ship with about 19 feet of water below its hull.  Commercial tugs gently pushed Wheeler into the massive dry dock facility.  Once commercial divers assessed the ship was in the exact position over stabilizing blocks, water was released from the dry dock’s 24 ballast tanks.  In just over 90 minutes, Wheeler’s hull was clearly visible.

Repairs to Wheeler included removal and cleaning of grid coolers used to the cool the ship’s engines; overhaul of forward and aft tunnel thrusters and swing-down azimuth thrusters; replacement of the main propeller seal; polishing of existing propellers; and painting of the ship’s hull below the waterline.  Fast Tempo underwent minor repairs including painting and diagnostics of the main engine.

Work was completed Oct. 17 and the ballast tanks flooded again. 

“Time to get our feet wet,” Goins said as he stood near Wheeler’s hull just before the dock was about to flood. 

It took about two hours for the dry dock to flood and for Wheeler to be pulled out of the dock by commercial tugs.  Tugs gently pulled at Wheeler’s stern until the ship was safely out of dry dock.  The ship then shifted to a nearby pier where it underwent additional certifications by the Coast Guard and ABS. 

The ship conducted sea trials in the Singapore Strait Oct. 25 where engineers and ship’s crew ensured all the ship was operating at its peak capacity. 

Satisfied that Wheeler met all requirement and specifications, the ship received its U.S. Coast Guard-issued Certificate of Inspection, good for another five years.

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