Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
December 26, 2019
MSC Chartered Ship MV Ocean Giant Conducts Loadout, Departs Early in Support of Operation Deep Freeze 2020
By Sarah Burford
While the rest of the country was focused on holiday preparations, Military Sealift Command Pacific (MSCPAC) conducted cargo operations with the Military Sealift Command charter ship MV Ocean Giant in preparation for delivery to the remote Antarctica outpost of McMurdo Station, in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the Joint Task Force Support for Antarctica mission to the NSF-managed U.S. Antarctic Program.
Since Dec. 18, a team of six Navy Reservists from MSC’s Expeditionary Port Unit (EPU) 114 have been coordinating all aspects of the loadout of nearly 7 million pounds of cargo. The cargo consists of containers filled will food, mechanical parts, vehicles, construction materials, office supplies and electronics equipment, and much more; 80 percent of the supplies needed the year’s survival at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. In addition, Ocean Giant received a floating causeway that will be used to move cargo and retrograde items to and from the ship during cargo operation in Antarctica.
According to Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Ferbezar, EPU-114’s executive officer, the main job of the unit is to liaison with the ship and MSC during the cargo operation; keeping track of the cargo, where it is and how much has been loaded through round the clock watches.
“Our job is to be the eyes and ears for MSCPAC,” said Ferbezar. “We are the button for the captain of the ship to push if he needs something, and for MSCPAC to push if they need something relayed to the ship.”
Ferbezar explained that being a good liaison means having a good understanding of the cargo and how it will be loaded onto the ship as well as looking out for material damage during movements, that can then be relayed to the bridge of the ship.
The members of EPU-114 and the ship worked with load planners ahead of their trip to Port Huememe. According to Ferbezar, loading a ship with materials is a lot like a giant game of Jenga, where things have a specific order and place to go in the loadout. If one thing is out of place, it throws the whole operating into disorder. In some cases, this means removing cargo and reloading it, which can mean time and money.
In past years, ODF ships have conducted cargo offloads in Antarctica at the NSF’s ice-pier. Due to damages sustained from the harsh climate, this year offloads will be conducted via a floating causeway that Ocean Giant will deliver. Even though it is a new technology for operation on the arctic continent, for the ship and EPU-114, it is just another piece of cargo that needs to be loaded.
“Floating causeways are designed to be modular and to be loaded on in a container, just like any other piece of cargo,” explained Capt. John Hawkins, Ocean Giant’s master. “It is heavier than the standard cargo container, but nothing our deck cranes can’t handle.”
“Loading the causeway has given us a few new challenges to the load planning, but it’s nothing we couldn’t overcome,” said Cmdr. Michael Dillon, commanding officer, EPU-114. “Basically, cargo is cargo. To us, nothing has changed with the causeway. It’s just more cargo.”
According to both Dillon and Ferbezar, being a part of a mission like ODF, gives the unit the chance to work and develop relationships with local stevedores, port and customs officials who they will be working closely with if activated as part of a contingency scenario. In addition, it allows the unit to work together and to develop a team dynamic.
“These are the times when we, as reservists, get to work together as a team,” said Ferbezar. “Working together really helps us build trust with each other and camaraderie.”
Despite being away from their homes and families during the holidays, members of EPU-114 who are in Port Hueneme this year see the opportunity as something bigger than Christmas or New Years; they see it as one of those opportunities that doesn’t come around often and must be taken when it does.
“An operation like this is something that you might not see in your entire career,” said Ferbezar. “It really fills that need for us, as reservists, to serve a bigger purpose. It shows that we don’t just work one weekend a month.”
“This is a great opportunity to support something that has such and impact to the folks in Antarctica,” said Dillon. “When people think about the military, they always thing about the flash and glory of missions, but to be honest, no one goes anywhere or does anything without supplies. Ninety percent of things move over the ocean, so it’s nice to see how those things get where they need to go.”
Ocean Giant departed Christmas Eve, ahead of schedule. Following a stop in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the ship will load additional cargo, it will travel to McMurdo Station, where members of Navy Cargo Handling Battalion ONE will deploy the floating causeway and conduct the offload.
A second MSC contracted ship, MV Magothy, will arrive in Port Hueneme in the following days. Under the watchful eye of reservists from EPU-114, Magothy will onload building materials for an expansion project at the NSF facilities at McMurdo Station.
Operation Deep Freeze is a joint service, on-going Defense Support to Civilian Authorities activity in support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program. Mission support consists of active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Army, and Coast Guard as well as Department of Defense civilians and attached non-DOD civilians. ODF operates from two primary locations situated at Christchurch, New Zealand and McMurdo Station, Antarctica. 2020 marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of McMurdo station and its resupply mission, which began in 1955. An MSC-chartered cargo ship and tanker have made the challenging voyage to Antarctica every year since the station and its resupply mission were established in 1955.