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August 2005

MSC takes drydock on 13,000 mile commute
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By Trish Hoffman

Floating drydock Resolute
World War II-era floating drydock Resolute was deactivated at a ceremony in November 2003 (pictured above) after more than 50 years of service. Resolute was an invaluable resource to the U.S. military. To keep up with changes in technology, the drydock was modified and modernized in 1982. Resolute spent the next 20 years docking more than 130 submarines. The drydock will continue to maintain the ships of her nation's fleet as she heads back to work in Seattle.

In the more than 200 years since the U.S. Navy was founded, the Navy has operated dozens of different types of ships - all with a unique purpose. Some of the ships were combatants, some deliver supplies and others were built to provide fleet maintenance. One such vessel is the floating drydock.

The Navy built several floating drydocks during the early 1940s to assist during World War II. These floating garages could be taken near enemy lines to repair crippled ships and keep them battle ready.

To work on a damaged ship, the floating drydock would fill her internal ballast tanks with water to semi-submerge. The damaged ship was then floated over the drydock's deck. The floating drydock's internal ballasts were emptied once the damaged ship was secure, and both rose out of the water.

In 1945, one of the last floating drydocks to be built for the war was placed into service. Built by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, medium auxiliary floating drydock Resolute proved herself an invaluable asset to the war effort.

Following World War II, Resolute continued to support her country in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In 1983, Resolute underwent an extensive overhaul and was taken to Norfolk, Va., to provide repair services to attack submarines. Twenty years later - after successfully drydocking more than 130 submarines - Resolute was deactivated after 58 years of service.

MV Mighty Servant I
In the early morning hours of July 7, Military Sealift Command-chartered heavy lift ship MV Mighty Servant I flooded her ballast tanks in order to submerge her deck so Resolute, a 522-foot-long drydock, could be floated aboard. After Resolute was in place over the deck, Mighty Servant I emptied her ballast tanks and rose to the water's surface. Mighty Servant I is transporting the drydock from Norfolk, Va., to the Pacific Northwest. Bill Cook photo

It was not long, however, until the 522-foot long Resolute was called upon again. A Navy study identified the need for additional drydock capacity in the Seattle area where several commercial shipyards routinely repair and overhaul West Coast Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and commercial ships. Resolute could fill that capacity, and she was offered for lease. The five-year lease was awarded to Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle.

To make the journey from Norfolk, Va., to Seattle, Resolute would have to be towed or transported on a heavy lift ship - she has no propulsion system of her own. Because of the long distance - more than 13,000 nautical miles - a heavy lift ship was the only reasonable option.

Military Sealift Command chartered heavy lift ship MV Mighty Servant I to carry Resolute. After three days of preparation, the two ships began the journey on July 10 and should arrive in Seattle by the end of August.

Heavy lift ships are designed specifically to carry large, unwieldy cargo like drydocks, damaged vessels and oil rigs.

To load their cargo, ships like the 623-foot long Mighty Servant I semi-submerge while cargo is floated on board. Once the cargo is in place, the heavy lift ship rises back to the surface - just like Resolute.

Although the process sounds simple, it takes hours for the internal ballast tanks to fill and then empty. Securing the cargo to the ship is a very exact process that can also take a long time to complete.

"The drydock is secured to Mighty Servant I by a series of landing blocks and sea fastenings, each designed to keep the drydock stable," said Jay Standring, MSC marine transportation specialist. "Such exact measurements require months of planning."

Mighty Servant I will travel from Norfolk, Va., to Seattle by going down around South America and through the Straits of Magellan. Mighty Servant I is too wide to fit through the Panama Canal. Once Resolute arrives, she will lift a variety of ships including Washington state ferries and commercial customers.

MSC has chartered heavy lift ships in the past, most notably to move the bomb-damaged, guided missile destroyer USS Cole from Yemen to the United States aboard MV Blue Marlin.