High-speed catamaran's capabilities put to use in relief effort
January 11, 2005
CHUKSAMET PORT, Thailand — The Westpac Express arrived here Sunday to lend its unique capabilities to humanitarian relief efforts in South Asia.
The high-speed catamaran, which the Military Sealift Command leases, unloaded about 35 vehicles — seven-ton trucks, Hummers and forklifts — communications gear and shipping containers of military supplies. The vehicles and equipment belong to the Marine Corps’ 7th Communications Battalion and the III Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters group.
The ship left Okinawa Jan. 4, making it here in five days, said Chief Warrant Officer Perry L. Smith, embarkation officer. That’s among the HSV’s unique features, Smith said: With a possible top speed of approximately 40 knots, it can travel much faster than normal Navy ships.
“We made it here a couple of days faster than a normal ship, and we can carry more gear,” he said. The HSV can carry 633 tons and up to 970 passengers, he added.
The catamaran also can enter shallower waters than conventional surface ships. “If we have 15 feet of water, we can get into a port,” said Ken Kujala, the HSV’s captain. “We can get into a lot of places bigger ships can’t.”
The HSV also can dock and off-load where other ships can’t. Smith said the ship needs just a wharf, not an improved pier.
Marine Lt. Col. John Curatola, logistics officer for Combined Support Force 536, said the HSV would stay in the area as long as needed. A second similar vessel, the Swift, is to head to the region soon from the States and should arrive by the end of January, he said.
The plan now is to use the vessel to ferry supplies throughout Thailand and Sumatra, Curatola said. Sri Lanka, another area suffering heavy tsunami damage, is too distant to make HSV use efficient, he said; that country will continue to be an airlift priority.
Three Maritime Prepositioning Ships now are in the Gulf of Thailand. Curatola said if needed, those ships’ cargoes could be transferred to the HSV, which then could deliver the supplies.
Kujala said this is the first time the vessel will take part in relief operations; its normal mission is to support training. The HSV’s all-civilian crew hasn’t learned what it’s like to provide during the relief effort, Kujala said, but crew members are ready.
“We’re standing by to stand by,” he said. “We’re here to do what we need to do.”