PACIFIC OCEAN -- Underway, in the waters off the coast of Hawaii, Military Sealift Command (MSC) chartered tanker ships MT Maersk Peary and SLNC Goodwill are providing at-sea fuel deliveries to the MSC’s Combat Logistics Fleet (CLF) ships that are supporting the underway phase of the bi-annual maritime exercise, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022.
Maersk Perry is delivering JP5 aviation fuel and diesel ship fuel and Goodwill is delivering diesel ship fuel to MSC fleet replenishment oilers USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) and USNS Pecos (T-AO 197), as well as MSC’s dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE 11), through a series of consolidated cargo operations or CONSOLs. MSC reintroduced conducting tanker to oiler CONSOLS-at-sea in 2015, as a way to utilize a flexible platform that allows MSC to operate worldwide in a variety of missions.
RIMPAC 2022 is the first time this technology is being used during a major exercise in the Pacific area of operation.
During a CONSOL, the specially outfitted MSC-controlled tankers transfer the cargo fuel via connected lines, underway. Essentially, the tanker ships create a gas station, at sea, for ships.
Unlike a quick trip to the gas pumps for a car, CONSOLing can take hours to complete. This creates a unique set of challenges for the ships conducting the operations. CONSOLing is a dance between two ships. Each must maneuver alongside the other, and maintain a consistent speed and course. Because of their size, tanker maneuverability becomes a challenge.
“We simply do not maneuvering like the CLFs do. They are graceful, gliding through the water,” said Capt. Michelle Laycock, Maersk Peary’s master. “There’s not a lot of ‘grace’ to a fully loaded tanker. We don’t glide, we plow through the water.”
To keep skills sharp, and to prepare for any situation that comes at them, the tankers and the CLF ships train. According to Laycock in May of 2021, Maersk Peary conducted three back-to-back CONSOLS, and in April and May of this year, the ship conducted five evolutions, using both the ship’s forward and aft CONSOL stations.
“I think this kind of training is important,” said Laycock. “When you only have an evolution once every six months or so, all you do is get through the event. You plan and train of course but you don’t get the opportunity to improve. With these recent five, longer CONSOLS events, we took the opportunity to really nit-pick ourselves just to see where we could improve.”
The ability to CONSOL CLF ships at-sea means they do not have to return to a port to refuel at a Navy or commercial fuel pier. Eliminating those round-trips into port reduces cost and increases time on-station to support the fleet.
“If we can bring fuel to the CLF ships, then their journeys can be shortened, and they can return much quicker to the carrier groups or fleet groups that they need to service,” said Laycock. “It’s extremely rewarding when you’re breaking away from the other vessel and you’ve realized what you’ve just accomplished. It’s amazingly empowering to know that you have that capability. I know on the MSC side of things, that this is day-to-day business. On the commercial side of things, this is not something that has been cultivated over the years. While it’s not new, it’s certainly not every day.”
As the largest maritime exercise in the world, RIMPAC provides experience for participants to train and to learn from each other. As Laycock admits, it is no different for her and the crew of Maersk Perry who feel a deep sense of pride for their participation and contributions.
“We provide a service and one that is quite valuable. I want the members of my crew to be proud; not because I say they should be but because what they are doing is worthwhile,” said Laycock. “RIMPAC is something I’ve read about over the years and I’ve always thought that this was an incredibly cool event. I never thought I would be involved, so I cannot even describe how super excited I am to be part of this. If anybody is curious, I’m referring to this as the “BIG Adventure.”
Twenty-six nations, 38 ships, three submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 29- Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2022 is the 28th exercise in the series that began in 1971.