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Willie Wiggins, a civilian seaman aboard the USNS Patuxent, straps a Mini to the deck of the ship. The oiler is transporting personal cars, a plane and household goods as part of "Opportune Lift," a little-known program in which eligible personnel overseas can transport good on Navy ships on a space-available basis.
Willie Wiggins, a civilian seaman aboard the USNS Patuxent, straps a Mini to the deck of the ship. The oiler is transporting personal cars, a plane and household goods as part of "Opportune Lift," a little-known program in which eligible personnel overseas can transport good on Navy ships on a space-available basis. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)
Willie Wiggins, a civilian seaman aboard the USNS Patuxent, straps a Mini to the deck of the ship. The oiler is transporting personal cars, a plane and household goods as part of "Opportune Lift," a little-known program in which eligible personnel overseas can transport good on Navy ships on a space-available basis.
Willie Wiggins, a civilian seaman aboard the USNS Patuxent, straps a Mini to the deck of the ship. The oiler is transporting personal cars, a plane and household goods as part of "Opportune Lift," a little-known program in which eligible personnel overseas can transport good on Navy ships on a space-available basis. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)
A 1972 Mini with racing stripes sits on the deck of the USNS Patuxent at Naval Station Rota, Spain on Thursday. The oiler is transporting personal cars, a plane and household goods as part of "Opportune Lift," a little-known program in which eligible personnel overseas can transport good on Navy ships on a space-available basis.
A 1972 Mini with racing stripes sits on the deck of the USNS Patuxent at Naval Station Rota, Spain on Thursday. The oiler is transporting personal cars, a plane and household goods as part of "Opportune Lift," a little-known program in which eligible personnel overseas can transport good on Navy ships on a space-available basis. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — With a minivan, several Minis and a sleek BMW parked on deck, the USNS Patuxent looked like a floating used car dealership.

But none of these cars are for sale. At least, not yet. They are personal vehicles just hitching a ride on the Navy oiler.

The haul is part of a little-known military program called Opportune Lift which allows servicemembers to move personal vehicles, boats, motorcycles and household goods on Navy ships if there is space available.

The 678-foot Patuxent, which is in Rota after escorting a pair of patrol boats across the Atlantic Ocean, had plenty of room for the extra cargo for the trip back to its homeport of Norfolk, Va.

“This is an easy load,” said Craig Upton, a merchant marine who serves as the ship’s captain. “They can’t possibly fill us up.”

The program is a bargain if the customer isn’t in a hurry to receive his car or boat. Some people can wait as long as a year before their property arrives at its destination because the items carry the lowest shipping priority.

It costs $150 for vehicles weighing less than 4,000 pounds and $250 for anything heavier. However, moving vehicles commercially can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars more, said Navy Chief Petty Officer Concepcion Banda, the naval station’s fleet support officer.

Most people send their second or third car, or use the benefit to move household goods they couldn’t fit under their limit.

One person sent a single-engine Cessna aircraft. Another customer sent a crate full of Spanish tiles.

Base officials had to briefly suspend the program in Rota because of the lack of space on the ships that came through the port. The arrival of the Patuxent allowed the base’s supply department to unload 18 cars, the plane, a motorcycle and 10 to 15 crates of household goods.

The program accepts a wide range of vehicles and boats, but there are a few exceptions. Any items that require any special handling beyond the ship’s capabilities are not allowed.

Program users also must sign a waiver freeing the government from any liability.

The program is available at most bases worldwide.

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