Casual followers of maritime news could be forgiven for any confusion in late January when two similarly named vessels that will be enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) began sailing under the American flag within a few days of each other.
For Seafarers, the bottom line on both developments is new job opportunities aboard American Roll-On/Roll-Off Carrier’s (ARC) MV Liberty and aboard Liberty Global Logistics’ Liberty Passion.
On Jan. 31, ARC announced the addition of the Liberty as its eighth RO/RO vessel. A formal naming ceremony will be conducted in the port of Charleston, South Carolina, in June. The former MV Topeka was renamed and reflagged under the Stars and Stripes in Bremerhaven, Germany, with the U.S. Coast Guard overseeing the procedure. Tote Services operates the ship for ARC.
The vessel owner described this new addition as “among the most capable and militarily useful vessels in the U.S.-flag commercial fleet, able to carry tracked vehicles, helicopters, trucks and other military and high and heavy project cargoes.” The Liberty is 656 feet long and has a beam of about 106 feet. It was built in Japan in 2006.
Meanwhile, the Liberty Maritime-operated Liberty Passion flagged into U.S. registry Jan. 26 in Bahrain. A brief ceremony took place, with representatives from the U.S. Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and others in attendance. Another ceremony is tentatively scheduled to happen in late February in Beaumont, Texas.
Built this year in Korea, the Liberty Passion also is 656 feet in length, with a beam of almost 106 feet.
In a communication announcing the new ship, a company official said Liberty “looks forward to … providing commercial and military lift capacity in support of U.S. international commerce, national security, humane and emergency relief operations.”
Established as an initial 10-year program in 1996, the MSP has been extended several times, most recently to the year 2025 (through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013). The program maintains up to 60 privately owned, U.S.- flagged, American-crewed commercial ships that are available to the Defense Department as needed. It has always enjoyed bipartisan backing, and is considered a significantly affordable bargain for the government.
Through directly related agreements, the U.S. also gains access to portions of a global, intermodal transportation network.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has pointed out that MSP ship crews “are a major source for the DOD surge fleet.” The DOT also described the program as “a vital element of our military’s strategic sealift and global response capability. Without the MSP fleet, the United States would have assured access to very few U.S.-flag commercial vessels to support Department of Defense operations.”
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