Iraqi Freedom Re-supply Ships Load at Port of Wilmington, North Carolina

As the re-supply of U.S. troops and equipment in Iraq gets underway, the U.S. Maritime Administration is providing ships from its Ready Reserve Force to help in the operation. As many as 24 ships in the fleet will be called to duty by the Military Sealift Command.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta said, "The Ready Reserve Force played a critical role in the initial phase of the Iraqi conflict, and will play an important role in replenishment and re-supply. We cannot respond effectively to overseas emergencies without sealift, and the Ready Reserve Force and the commercial sector of the American shipping industry provide that sealift."

The Ready Reserve Force (RRF) is a fleet of ships owned and maintained by the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration. They are kept "on call" to provide sealift in times of conflict or national emergency. The RRF ship Cape Douglas, loaded earlier this week at the Port of Wilmington, and the Cape Decision, loading now, are heading to the U.S. Central Command area of operations with heavy equipment and supplies.

Both ships are Roll-on/Roll-off cargo ships designed to carry large numbers of vehicles. Each ship will carry about 160-thousand square feet of cargo; the equivalent of three-and-a-half football fields. Sealift is vitally important in any large overseas military operation.

In Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, nearly 85 percent of the cargo needed has traveled on ships. It would take 130 trips by a C-17 aircraft to take the same amount of cargo as one trip on one of the "Cape D's".

Ships of the Ready Reserve Force are crewed by U.S. merchant mariners, civilians who volunteer for these missions. Some crew members of the Cape Douglas and the Cape Decision served in the initial phase of the Iraqi conflict, and were awarded Merchant Marine Expeditionary medals on their return. So far, 22 percent of the cargo carried overseas for the Iraqi conflict has been carried on ships of the Ready Reserve Force.

The Port of Wilmington is one of 14 strategic commercial ports designated by the Department of Defense. Strategic ports must meet high standards of efficiency, flexibility, and security.

The Maritime Administration assists ports in acquiring and maintaining the strategic commercial port designation by training deployment stakeholders and managing port assets with a coordination network. Maritime Administrator Captain William G. Schubert said, "A strategic port must be able to move large amounts of military cargo efficiently and seamlessly without any disruption to commercial traffic. The Port of Wilmington has accomplished just that."