December 16, 2002
A variety of fates awaits ships after decommissioning..........
Once the decommissioning ceremony is over and sailors say goodbye to their ship, what happens to the hull?The answer depends on what the Navy has in mind, said Mark Deskins, deputy program manager for inactive ships, Naval Sea Systems Command.The options are:• Mobilization Category B. This is the highest state of readiness for an inactive ship, in which it's towed to an inactive ships facility and mothballed, leaving open the possibility it can be brought back to life if needed. Workers add dehumidification equipment, protect it from rust and install fire and flooding alarms. Engines and other equipment are left in the ship if it needs to be revived, although bringing a ship back to life can be a lengthy process, Deskins said.• Foreign military sale. The ship is transferred to a foreign country. This is sometimes called a "hot transfer," in which the U.S. crew walks off and the foreign crew walks aboard.• Logistics support asset. The ship is towed to an inactive-ships site and other agencies strip it for parts.• Disposal. When marked for disposal, ships either can be donated as museums, scrapped under the Ship Disposal Project or sunk as targets.• Title transfer. The ship is transferred to the Maritime Administration for storage until a decision is made on its ultimate fate.
------------------------------------------------------------------ONE LAST WATCH
Decommissioning will be common practice this year. Here's how one crew is tackling the big job
By David Brown
Navy Times staff writer
16 Decemeber 2002 Issue
NORFOLK, Va. - In June 2001, the angel of death swung his saluting arm and stepped aboard the destroyer Nicholson.At the time, there were rumors that the Spruance-class destroyer, which was deployed in the Mediterranean, would be decommissioned when it steamed home. The rumors were confirmed; the ship would end its career near the end of 2002."I told everyone else, 'If I'm here, it might happen,'" said Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 1st Class (SW) Richard Taylor, who decommissioned four ships before joining the Nicholson. "It just sort of works out that way."Taylor's track record earned him the shipboard nickname "decom baby." But the experience also gives him an insight that could come in handy for other surface sailors over the next three years. At least 11 destroyers and frigates will be decommed in fiscal 2003, along with the carrier Constellation, one amphib and one oiler. By 2006, the eight remaining Spruance destroyers will be wiped from the fleet, which means many more sailors can look forward to feeling the perks and pitfalls of life in the little-known world of a decom crew. Expensive to keepArmed with newer Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that pop out of shipyards two or three times a year - and with an eye toward cutting costs - Navy officials decided last year to accelerate the decommissioning of the Spruances while modernizing some Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.The decision was both an operational and budgetary move, said Rear Adm. Terrance Etnyre, Atlantic naval surface force commander. Frigates are better equipped to carry two helicopters than Spruances. And frigates can operate with 200 sailors, making them cheaper to keep around than the 350-sailor Spruances, Etnyre said."What do you gain [by keeping the Spruances]? Obviously, the destroyers bring a Tomahawk capability that the frigates don't have. But we're getting the Arleigh Burkes with the [vertical launch system] into the fleet in numbers. And we can still maintain our Tomahawk requirements with those ships," Etnyre said. "So when you weigh it all, it made sense to keep the [frigates]." De-manningFor the Nicholson, the word came down last spring that the ship would be decommissioned Dec. 20, then sunk at sea as a target during an exercise. The reaction of the crew, which had been assembled to hear the news from the captain, ranged from frustration to elation, depending on the sailor's experience level.Older sailors, such as Gas Turbine System Technician 1st Class (SW) Charles White, mentally pumped their fists when they heard the news. White has spent much of the last four years in the Nicholson's engine room, pouring sweat and ingenuity into running the ship's aging gas turbines."I've learned that you need to be more than flexible, because flexible's too rigid," said White, describing what it takes to keep older equipment humming. "You have to be fluid."In May, the ship conducted a "de-manning conference." Detailers from Navy Personnel Command came aboard, armed with several choice assignments for crew members. About 50 of the sailors' spouses also showed up to listen, and some sailors had as many as 25 options to choose from, said Lt. Cmdr. Peter White, Nicholson's executive officer."In two days, 95 percent of the crew knew their fate and really started making plans," he said.Etnyre said decom crews needn't worry about their future."We have the other destroyers still coming in, so you've got to man them," he said. "They're not being thrown out, that's for sure."On Oct. 25, the ship began its prestrike standdown, the first step toward decommissioning. The crew no longer would make casualty reports. Instead, they started pulling equipment off the ship.For the rest of the ships in the Nicholson's destroyer squadron, the old warrior became a glorified parts bin. First dibs for prime equipment went to the destroyer Thorn, which was expecting a visit from the Board of Inspection and Survey. Once the Thorn had all it needed, other ships could ask for remaining parts, ranging from engines to binoculars."It's not like the taxpayers' dollars go to the bottom of the ocean," White said.The ship's bell, pictures, commissioning plaques and other artifacts will go the Naval Historical Center. Personnel from Naval Sea Systems Command tagged out items that could be used on other ships. In fiscal 2002, NavSea was able to put $130 million worth of equipment back into other ships, said Mark Deskins, NavSea's deputy program manager for inactive ships.During interviews aboard the Nicholson on Nov. 13, the ship was three weeks away from its 50 percent close-out point, meaning half the ship's spaces had been cleared out. Every space on the ship had a checklist taped to the door; all the boxes must be checked before the space is considered closed.Just how much work goes into taking a ship out of commission was a big surprise to many in the crew. Not only must they carefully remove bulky and delicate equipment, but the spaces need to be maintained. There can be no rust on the ship, and no torn laggings around pipes."I must hear from my guys 20 times a day, 'Why do we have to paint it when we're going to sink it?' " White, the GSM1, said.The answer: The ship will be towed to the inactive facility in Philadelphia and could sit there for an indefinite period before being sunk. That means the ship can't be a maintenance problem while floating with other ships in the ghost fleet.The amount of work destroyed the myth many sailors had before the process began. Many thought they would take the plaques and pictures off the walls, then leave."'Intense' is the way I would put it," White said. "It's like an organized insanity. Every five minutes, there's something different."As he talked, sailors and contractors were cutting a hole in the deck, then the bulkhead, to pull one of the engines off the ship.Taylor has advice for sailors about to decommission their ship."It's never too early to start your work. Do the small things. Do the preservation that's required. Organize your tools so you know where they are when you need to turn them back in."None of the sailors interviewed said morale was an issue as they pulled their ship apart. They were too busy to feel sad about the ship going away, and said they expected to feel more nostalgia for their former shipmates than for the ship itself."There's still a purpose to life," White, the XO, said. "There is a mission here. It's just different."
Hampton Roads, Va., bureau chief William H. McMichael contributed to this report. David Brown covers weapons and warfare issues.
USS ENGAGE (MSO-433)
USS IMPERVIOUS (MSO-449) (Served in Desert Storm)
The Enhance and Esteem were scheduled to be REMOVED from the Bremerton facility the week of March 20th, 2000 by Crowley Marine. (Per NAVSEA 3/29/2000)
USS CONSTANT (MSO-427)
USS EXCEL (MSO-439)(served in Persian Gulf)
They both were contracted by NAVSEA to Crowley Marine .