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April 2008

T-AKE 2 working hard during first deployment
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By Gillian Brigham, SEALOGEUR Public Affairs

Military Sealift Command dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Sacagawea got underway for its first deployment Dec. 11 and since then has been busy in the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet area of operations.

Oil spill exercise

Just days after arriving in theater, Sacagawea took part in an oil spill response drill Feb. 5 at the Port of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates.

MSC logistics ships operating in the area frequently stop in Jebel Ali to load supplies and fuel they need to deliver to U.S. Navy and coalition warships conducting maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf.

The purpose of the drill was to test the Port of Jebel Ali's fire/rescue/pollution squad response time to an accidental oil spill while conducting fueling operations. The drill was organized by the commercial refueling company that loads MSC ships in the United Arab Emirates.

"Protection of the environment is a core Military Sealift Command operating principle and a responsibility we take very seriously," said Sacagawea's civil service master Capt. George McCarthy. "We share this responsibility with our partners at shoreside facilities. This exercise demonstrates our shared understanding of our responsibility and our commitment and ability to work together in its fulfillment."

For Sacagawea, the drill gave the crew a great opportunity to "test the effectiveness of our response procedures, our ability to communicate and effectively respond to situations like this," said McCarthy.

During the drill, Sacagawea simulated a leak in the cargo-loading arm, which caused fuel to spill over the side of the ship and onto the pier. The ship alerted the response team, and the on-scene commander arrived within six minutes of the alert to assess the situation. The team successfully deployed absorbent pads and booms to contain the mock spill, and a fire truck and ambulance arrived to tend to potential fires or casualties.

"The active participation by Sacagawea's crew is highly commendable," said the fuel company manager Deepak Bhatia. "They demonstrated a high degree of professionalism and spirit in making this drill a success."

MV Nadi
MV Nadi, a North Korean-flagged coastal tanker with 10 Iraqi crew members, takes on water one week after the vessel lost power. Military Sealift Command dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Sacagawea rescued Nadi's crew Feb. 22. U.S. Navy photo

Rescue at sea

Seventeen days later, Sacagawea rescued 10 Iraqi citizens from a sinking 250-foot coastal tanker in the central Persian Gulf.

The Bahrain-based maritime liaison office issued an alert that the North Korean-flagged MV Nadi was sinking and that the ship's crew needed assistance Feb. 22. Nadi, which was actively flooding, had been operating without power for a week, and its crew members were suffering from dehydration and exhaustion.

Sacagawea, which was conducting logistics operations in the area, arrived on-scene to help shortly after the distress call.

Aircraft from aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman's Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 7 picked up the seamen and delivered them to Sacagawea, where they were examined by medical officers.

"Sacagawea's crew provided shower facilities, laundered the rescued crew's clothing and provided meals," said McCarthy. "Many crew members also generously donated clothing, outerwear and shoes."

MV Nadi's captain thanked Sacagawea's crew for giving them back their lives.

The helicopters transferred the Iraqi mariners to the United Kingdom's Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship dock Cardigan Bay Feb. 23. The next day, the mariners were transferred to the Iraqi navy for further transport to their country of origin.

This is the maiden deployment of Sacagawea, the second ship of MSC's new class of Lewis and Clark dry cargo/ammunition ships. Sacagawea is currently serving in the Middle East.

Navy Lt. j.g. Christopher Lisk, Commander Task Force 53, contributed to this article.