SEALIFT

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January 2007

A curious cargo
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MSC takes on Gladiator

By Laura M. Seal

USS Gladiator

Against a backdrop of gray skies, diving pelicans and playful dolphins, the black-hulled Military Sealift Command-chartered heavy-lift ship Condock V cut through the cool air and calm waters of the Corpus Christi Channel on Dec. 11. Protruding from the top of Condock V's open-air cargo hold was the mast of a U.S. Navy ship.

James Kent "The delicate nature of Gladiator's hull ... made it very important to ensure that Gladiator was moved and stored carefully."
James Kent, naval architect

The surreal sight of the 224-foot Navy ship piggy-backed on another ship was the culmination of a months-long contracting and engineering effort led by MSC to move Navy mine countermeasures ship USS Gladiator from its homeport at Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, to Bahrain. Gladiator is one of the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command's 14 active mine countermeasures ships and six active coastal mine hunters.

"It is best to transport Gladiator via heavy lift, because this reduces wear and tear on the ship during its nearly 10,000-mile journey, ensuring that it will not only arrive more quickly, but also operationally-ready," said Tom Walters, MSC's heavy-lift specialist.

MSC chartered Condock V in September 2006 after receiving the request to move two MCMs from Ingleside to Bahrain. "Sometimes it can be difficult to obtain a ship with the unique float-on/float-off capabilities needed to transport Navy vessels, but for this move we solicited far enough ahead of time so that we had good competition," said Ken Allen, MSC contracting officer. There are only 22 float-on/float-off ships operating worldwide, and they are often booked years in advance.

USS Gladiator is slowly pushed into the submerged cargo hold of MV Condock V
Navy mine countermeasures ship USS Gladiator is slowly pushed into the submerged cargo hold of Military Sealift Command-chartered float-on/float-off ship MV Condock V. Condock V is transporting the ship from Ingleside, Texas, to Bahrain to avoid excess wear and tear on Gladiator's engines. This is the seventh time MSC has orchestrated such a move. Laura Seal photos
Tom Walters and James Kent examine supports underneath USS Gladiator.
MSC's heavy-lift specialist Tom Walters, left, and MSC naval architect James Kent examine supports underneath USS Gladiator.

The 1,300-ton Gladiator was loaded onto Condock V Dec. 4 using a process called "float-on," which is used for cargo too large to lift by crane.

Tom Walters "It is best to transport Gladiator via heavy lift, because this reduces wear and tear on the ship during its nearly 10,000-mile journey."
Tom Walters, heavy-lift specialist

Condock V filled its ballast tanks, submerging its open-air cargo deck under about 32 feet of water. The Gladiator then was maneuvered into position over Condock V's deck with the help of pusher boats and lines. With Gladiator correctly positioned, Condock V pumped water from the ballast tanks, raising the submerged deck as Gladiator settled onto specially constructed supports. The process took about 12 hours.

"This move presented a unique challenge because it was a really tight fit. We only had about five feet of space between the Gladiator and the walls of Condock V's cargo hold," said Walters.

USS Gladiator sits on specially contructed supports
Navy mine countermeasures ship USS Gladiator sits on specially contructed supports inside the cargo hold of MSC-chartered float-on/float-off ship MV Condock V.

"We did a lot of on-site calculations," said James Kent, naval architect and MSC's lead engineer on the move. "In addition to the tight fit, the delicate nature of Gladiator's hull, which is constructed of wood coated with glass-reinforced plastic sheathing, made it very important to ensure that Gladiator was moved and stored carefully," said Kent.

As the contracting agent, MSC coordinated the engineering effort with Naval Sea Systems Command and the commercial company that operates Condock V. An independent marine surveyor was also on hand.

MV Condock V crew members
Military Sealift Command-chartered MV Condock V crew members move a steel support structure into place underneath U.S. Navy mine countermeasures ship USS Gladiator.

The Condock V lift is the seventh float-on/float-off move orchestrated by Military Sealift Command for the U.S. Navy since 2000. The most well-known of these moves was the transport of guided missile destroyer USS Cole from Yemen to Pascagoula, Miss., following the terrorist attack in 2000 that ripped a 40-by-40-foot hole in the ship.

The British were the first to use the heavy-lift technology to move a naval vessel when they transported one of their Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, which was heavily damaged during the Falklands War in 1982, home to England in 1984.

MV Condock V
U.S. Navy mine countermeasures ship USS Gladiator rests securely inside the cargo hold of Military Sealift Command-chartered float-on/float-off ship MV Condock V.

MSC's first float-on/float-off move is believed to be in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war, when the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine in the Persian Gulf while escorting Kuwaiti tankers. Roberts was towed to Dubai, where it was loaded onto heavy-lift ship Mighty Servant 2, which brought Roberts to Newport, R.I.

Gladiator will replace one of two Navy coastal mine hunters being decommissioned and transferred to Egypt. A second mine countermeasures ship is scheduled to be transferred via heavy-lift from Ingleside to Bahrain on another MSC-chartered Condock ship.