First Vessel Purchased for U.S. Ready Reserve Under Renewal Program

car carriers acquired for US Readyt Reserve Fleet
MV Honor sailing under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, Baltimore, MD (Stena RoRo)

Published Mar 22, 2022 3:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

The first vessel acquisitions have been completed under a program that will recapitalize the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force. The acquisition of two car carriers is part of an effort to acquire newer ships to address the shortcomings of a fleet designed to support the U.S. Department of Defense’s sealift capabilities.

Crowley Maritime was awarded a $638 million contract in July 2021 to manage the program to acquire secondhand vessels after the fleet performed poorly in a readiness test conducted by U.S. Transport Command in 2019. The Ready Reserve Fleet, which consists of 41 vessels, is held in reserve by MARAD designed for quick reactivation to provide nearly 50 percent of government-owned surge sealift capability.

The fleet’s performance has long been an issue with the U.S. GAO reported after the Gulf War that 75 percent of the fleet could not be made ready by their specified deadlines. Similarly, during a September 2019 test of readiness, 28 vessels in the Reserve Fleet and from the Military Sealift Command were called up in a no-notice exercise. Only about 60 percent of the Ready Reserve Fleet was deemed ready and only 40 percent of the ships were able to depart on time. MARAD reported at the end of the test that the age of the ships was one of the main factors for the poor performance. The ships, which are maintained by skeleton crews and are idle for long periods, have an average age of 45 years. 

MARAD and DOD historically sustain the fleet through the purchase of secondhand vessels but given the poor performance, it was decided to bring in private-sector expertise to aid in the new fleet renewal program awarding the contract to Crowley Maritime in 2021. Crowley has the role of identifying the vessels tarting approximately 20-year-old ships and making purchase recommendations based on their analysis. 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, and will maintain and operate the vessels on behalf of MARAD.

Crowley reports that it is utilizing proprietary software, which allows for a strategic and data-driven identification of the vessels best suited for conversion to the Ready Reserve service. They can analyze a vessel’s lifecycle history, develop a condition summary, and estimate ongoing operation requirements for optimal vessel acquisition and management execution.

The acquisition of the MV Honor, a 26-year-old car carrier is the first under the new program. Built in 1996 by Sumitomo Heavy Industries in Japan, she is 19,860 dwt with flexibility that permits her to carry high and heavy and other project cargo. She has a capacity of 5,890 cars or 803 trucks. Crowley managed the acquisition of the Honor from American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier Group in collaboration with Stena RoRo, Serco, and LCE (Life Cycle Engineering). The acquisition of her sister ship MV Freedom is pending.

“The Freedom and Honor will help revitalize the Ready Reserve Force, a fleet critical to our national security. We look forward to continuing the momentum with additional opportunities to acquire, manage and operate vessels on behalf of MARAD and the U.S. government,” said Crowley’s, Miles Spratto.

MARAD reports that the Ready Reserve Force, which began in 1997 with just six vessels, currently consists of 33 Ro/Ros, four auxiliary crane ships, two aviation repair vessels, one heavy-lift vessel, and one tanker. In a separate but related development also designed to enhance the sealift capabilities, President Biden’s new federal budget included $70 million which will be used to add 10 tankers and retain two cable layer ships under optional charters to MARAD so that they would be available to the ready reserve. According to MARAD and the Navy, this is the first expansion of this portion of the ready fleet in nearly 25 years.