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Crowley Wins $638M Contract to Buy Ships for the Ready Reserve

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Two RRF ro/ros at layberth. The Cape Washington, right, is nearing its 40th year in service (Image courtesy Crowley)

Published Jul 28, 2021 8:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

Crowley Maritime has won a giant $638 million contract to help the Maritime Administration with one of its top priorities - procuring newer ships for the Ready Reserve Force (RRF), the fleet of sealift vessels that MARAD maintains for quick activation in time of war.

The number of used vessels, the classes of vessel sought and the sellers have not yet been disclosed. However, European ro/ro operator Stena RoRo is one of Crowley's partners on the project, and ro/ros make up the majority of the RRF fleet. Roll-on / roll-off vehicle carriers are of vital importance for sealift transportation of heavy armor, trucks and equipment.

The average age of ships in the existing RRF fleet is about 45 years, and readiness has been in decline. A 2019 activation test of the RRF's ability to man and deploy found serious concerns about its ability to get under way; it barely cleared the required 80 percent success rate. U.S. Transportation Command, the RRF's primary customer, found that the relatively low success rate "will challenge the immediate output" of the government-owned sealift fleet at the outset of a conflict. 

Given these difficulties, fleet renewal has been a top priority for MARAD for years. In decades past, MARAD and DOD have sustained the RRF through the purchase of secondhand, primarily foreign-built tonnage, but MARAD has decided to bring in private-sector expertise to manage this round of acquisitions. 

To carry out the purchasing contract, Crowley says that it will use a new, proprietary system to assess, research and make purchasing recommendations. Once the vessels are acquired, Crowley will oversee reflagging, reclassification, modification and maintenance as needed, bringing the ships into compliance with USCG, DOD and ABS standards. After the ships enter the RRF fleet, Crowley will maintain and operate the vessels on behalf of MARAD. The top-line figure for the contract includes the funds to buy the ships, according to a Crowley spokesperson.

“A successful [Vessel Acquisition Management] program is important to the U.S. as a maritime nation, the maritime industry and Crowley as we mutually invest in the strength of our nation,” said Mike Golonka, vice president of government ship management for Crowley Solutions. “We want to share our innovative, successful approach to vessel ownership and lifecycle engineering with the U.S. government.”