Navy says it won't extend 'sea swap' program to Bahrain-based sailors
Navy leaders have nixed the idea of extending the experimental “sea swap” program to shore-based sailors stationed in Bahrain, a Navy spokesman said Tuesday.
Last summer, after sailors bid farewell to families evacuated from the small Mideast country because of security risks and terrorist threats, Navy officials entertained the idea of adopting the sea swap concept.
Sea swap is a program in which Navy destroyers are left out to sea while the crews are swapped in and out, serving about six-month deployments.
“Bahrain remains a one-year, unaccompanied tour and there are no plans to bring sea swap ashore,” Cmdr. Jeff Breslau, a spokesman for Navy Central Command in Manama, Bahrain, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
Bahrain is home to the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees American warships and submarines operating in the Middle East region.
Bahrain also is no longer on the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list. Travel warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid a certain country. As of Tuesday, there were 26 such warnings, but Bahrain was not among them.
In July 2004, the U.S. military evacuated nearly 1,000 family members from Bahrain because of terrorism concerns, and altered tours to unaccompanied, meaning families no longer could accompany active-duty personnel. Initially, the evacuation order was to have lasted 30 days, but in September 2004, defense officials extended it indefinitely.
To limit the length of time sailors would be apart from families, Navy officials had tinkered with the notion of sea swap for “the crew in Bahrain so we do not have to have them be away from their families for a long period of time,” now-retired Vice Adm. Timothy LaFleur had said in mid-July 2004. At the time, he was commander of Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet.
The idea never came to fruition, Breslau said.
Sea swap does not increase sailors’ sea time, only the vessel’s, and eliminates the roughly 30- to 45-day transit time a ship takes to reach a destination.
While Bahrain’s unaccompanied tour status is indefinite, “at some point, we would like to have families return,” Breslau said.